A neighborhood bursting with art and diversity

    I’ve lived in a lot of places, from the Bronx to Baltimore to San Francisco, and this is one of the most neighborly blocks I’ve known.

    A few nights ago, my fiance and I went over to a friend Jean’s place for dessert. Jean lives on a lush, green block near Lincoln Drive, in a home built in the 19th century for workers in the Wissahickon quarry. “If you look closely, you can see the Wissahickon schist,” she said, meaning Philadelphia’s bedrock. Like me, Jean moved here a few years ago; we keep being thrilled by how close history feels, and not just in the red-brick narrow streets of Old City.

    We talked about many things, including the Mount Airy Lesbian Social Club, the bodacious group through which we met. Another member also lives on her street: “Have you seen her art?” Jean asked. The neighborhood’s bursting with artists, people serious but not self-promoting about what they do.

    That “social club” has helped me feel welcome here. So has Big Blue Marble Books, where I can ask the proprietor for a specific book, attend their community events or just sit and read; so has Weaver’s Way, the unpretentious food co-op next door, and the cafe across the street. I call their block “the Berkeley part” of Mount Airy, since it reminds me of Northern California.

    A few weeks ago, Jean and I were both part of an evening in what I call the hood’s Brooklyn section, starting at one of the brew pubs and ending at The Wine Thief, one of the restaurants and shops in the three blocks surrounding The Video Library. (The owner of the latter swears he started it all, though I’d love to fact-check that claim.)

    After the visit we went home to our row of Victorian houses, most crammed with families where parents call their kids in for dinner. Almost all are African-American. Somewhere else, these families might have been redlined out of their houses in the 1970s, but here neighborhood activists prevented it, which is why Mount Airy is now known as one the most diverse neighborhoods in the United States.

    Our neighbor Miss Barbara calls to us from across the street, asking how we’ve been surviving the heat. I’ve lived in a lot of places, from the Bronx to Baltimore to San Francisco, and this is one of the most neighborly blocks I’ve known.

    And I remember why, from the moment I saw it, I wanted to live in Mount Airy.

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