North Philadelphians discuss involving youth with historic preservation during Bridging Blocks event

North Philadelphians talked about the importance of engaging with the youth to preserve Philadelphia’s history.

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People sit around a table, talking with one another.

People debated what makes historic structures important, and what preservation looks like to them at the Bridging Blocks event on May 31, 2023. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

A discussion in North Philadelphia Wednesday asked what makes historic structures important, and what preservation looks like to Philadelphians.

The conversation, hosted as part of the Bridging Blocks initiative, in collaboration with WHYY and the Free Library of Philadelphia, focused on the importance of preserving city history and the importance of getting young people involved.

Attendees noted the importance of preserving Black history within Philly, specifically citing the legacy of boxer Joe Frazier and the home of saxophonist John Coltrane.

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Jacqueline Wiggins, a retired schoolteacher, said appreciation starts in the family unit.

“To look at those stories of the people that were mentioned, they come from families,” Wiggins said. “They come from families that had love and who felt that there were certain things that were to be valued. Education was to be valued, learning, loving.”

Between 2010 and 2020, nearly 78,000 new residents made the City of Brotherly Love their home. And in 2019, Philly saw a record breaking year for construction.

However, that was contrasted by an increase in demolitions. Rent price increases around Center City also pushed more development to predominantly Black neighborhoods  — a trend that continues to be reflected in demolitions, which advocates say are jeopardizing the preservation of historic sites, such as the Tanner House in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.

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Christopher Rogers works with an organization looking to preserve the site, and said it doesn’t just allow for people to learn about history, but also leads to community building.

“It requires all of us to be involved in this work and using the vehicles that we have to do that and realize that any time we share a story, we’re saying something about who we are,” Rogers said. “And I hope also about who we ought to be.”

The event was part of the Bridging Blocks series, a civic engagement initiative between WHYY and The Free Library of Philadelphia. The next event on June 28 will focus on reproductive rights since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. It will take place at the Chestnut Hill Library from 6-7:30 p.m.

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