Mixplace students lead 40th Street walking party to move the conversation forward

Last week nine teens participating in Mixplace Studio led a walking party on 40th Street from Walnut to Wallace streets. The idea was to spur a moving dialogue about 40th Street – how it changes block by block, how it has changed throughout recent history and how it might change going forward. 

Mixplace Studio is a collaborative initiative aimed at developing a new urban education model and rethinking ways of public participation.

Last summer Mixplace came together in West Philly with the help of, among others, the Slought Foundation, People’s Emergency Center (PEC) and design students from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. Last year the first group of teens participated in Mixplace’s yearlong curriculum and set the program’s focus on one linear mile along 40th Street, from Locust Street to Westminster Ave. They chose this focus area based on the idea that the flux and challenges a city faces can be found in a given 10-block stretch. 

This summer a new group of students kicked off the second Mixplace Studio session by meeting once a week for four weeks. On Friday, they led the public walking party and, along the way, shared what they have learned. 

The group of students led guests from 40th and Walnut streets to 40th and Wallace streets. In between, each student spoke about a stretch of 40th Street. They told guests about racial demographics and how the demographics have changed since the 1940s. The students also spoke about what types of buildings and institutions existed along the mile and what exist now.

Some students said they wish that, being such a historic corridor, 40th Street would have fewer large, abandoned buildings.

“We should come together as a community and figure out a plan,” said Mixplace student Julien Hill.

Other students said they were surprised to see what historic buildings like a fire station and bank are used for now. 

“Right across from the MLK Triangle used to be a beautiful bank, now called Hoagie City,” said Mixplace student Angelina Vandever, referencing the West Philadelphia Title and Trust Company building.

Because Mixplace is a flexible, student-developed model, the students are not clear how exactly they will use this information, but several spoke about the impact researching 40th Street has had on them.

“It makes me want to learn more because right now it’s not as interesting around here as it used to be,” said Mixplace student Jakai Johnson. “…When you look around now, you just see what’s there, but when you see what was there [before], you see the potential.”

These students will continue to work together throughout the upcoming fall and spring semesters to study and engage the 40th Street linear mile.

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