Why “Le Bok Fin” Is Misguided and Wrong for the Neighborhood

The redevelopment of Bok–starting with this pop-up restaurant–is giving me a lot of feelings.

Ever since I saw that a Scannapieco, this time the offspring, had bought and was set to develop the former Bok Technical School into a “makerspace” (whatever that even is), I was on guard. This neighborhood, between booming East Passyunk and stable Pennsport, has mostly avoided gentrification, probably because of the reputation that 5th Street has. It features excellent restaurants and beautiful murals, and large communities of Asian, Mexican and African-American people. The too-violent/dirty/whatever-other-coded-language-means-too-not-white neighborhood lost its actually-decent high school, Bok, in the recent big round of Philly closures. Students were sent to the worse-performing South Philly High instead.

The school is gorgeous and huge. It housed programs wherein students could get actual skills and certifications, and put themselves on the road out of poverty (100% of the school’s students were low-income; 95% were minority). It wasn’t without problems–a cheating scandal, for one–but it was certainly superior to Southern.

I walk by Bok every day on my way to work, and for months I have seen them throwing student desks and other educational materials, piling them up outside huge dumpsters on sidewalks and in the street, and lining the whole block with no-parking-or-you’ll-be-towed signed. What a welcome to their neighbors! Literally throwing away the remains of the education their children should be getting, and refusing to let them park their cars in the usual place on top of it. This added to my fear that Scout Ltd. was taking a tone-deaf route in its quest to “redevelop” the site.

And it looks like I was right to be uneasy. “Le Bok Fin” will feature a French menu, and put the kitchen that used to train teenagers to use. I wonder how many of the neighbors will be able to afford a meal there. Even its name is a reference that most of the neighborhood won’t get–to possibly the most bourgeoisie restaurant ever in Philadelphia. I wonder how many will even have the time, as time poverty is an issue that often gets overlooked. Scannapieco got a grant for “community” use, but the dog park just smacks of trying to lure millennials east of East Passyunk and west of Pennsport. The neighbors in this community do not need a dog park. This underserved neighborhood needs affordable healthcare and childcare, ESL classes, business and finance classes in multiple languages, better jobs, living wages, technology classes, immigration services, and the such. It doesn’t need dog parks, a bus shelter for an alternate-route bus and a “living room.”

“Artisan industrial” space, retail, housing–how much of this will be geared toward the actual community? Possibly a token amount, but more likely none at all. And so Scannapieco clearly hopes to usher in gentrification with her “makerspace.” It’s a pretty easy conclusion when other Philly makerspaces are in Graduate Hospital and Kensington, both battlefronts in the gentrification war Philadelphia is currently waging again long-term residents.

Further, who are the “makers?” They’re young, white people–the sort who build start-ups and attend expensive, pointless pop-ups and don’t worry about the community that was already there. Will they invite in kids for free workshops (with meals provided)? Will they hire the community and train them for meaningful jobs, not just as janitors? Will they pay a living wage if they do? What will they do for parents and adults who are too busy to be “makers”? Is this a space for everyone, or a space for those privileged few who can afford myriad luxuries–the first of which might be the ability to be a “maker” in the first place?

Scannapieco aims to build a community, but the community already exists. Taking a building that educated their children into the middle class and instead using it to showcase the very worse of the middle- and upper-middle classes in Philadelphia is tone deaf. It’s insulting, and it’s wrong.


4 thoughts on “Why “Le Bok Fin” Is Misguided and Wrong for the Neighborhood

  1. Chris Palmer says:

    I had a similar reaction to the closure and re-birth of Bok. I visited the pop up and I began to feel my blood boil as I looked at all the hipsters sitting at school tables sipping their craft beers, looking out at the Philly skyline,desks that are missing from city school’s over-crowded classrooms. I wondered if these young professionals had any idea of the vast scope of what’s been robbed from the students of our public schools — a hell of a lot more than tables and chairs. Mrs. Scannapieco is doing what America does, that is to take what you can. Is that mid-guided? After all, she didn’t close Bok, she just took advantage. I try not to judge. She and her group Scout are asking for proposals for spaces in the school (Bok is 350,000 square feet). I wonder if somehow there is some kind of compromise solution? I wonder if some of our teachers can find an authentic way to help support and build the community that is here? Will Ms. Scannapieco listen, will she be compelled to do something other than polish up this beautiful piece of Art Deco Architecture? She had mentioned preserving something of the buildings original purpose. Let’s remember that Bok was born in the midst of the Great Depression, when somehow we as a people made great investments in our communities.

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  2. ellen reynolds says:

    I am a community member. I know what a maker space is and was excited to hear that Bok might have a chance to be re-purposed for the community – to utilize once again, and perhaps in a fresh new way, the amazing workshops and classrooms that remain inside the school. I eagerly went to the rooftop cafe hoping to hear more about how to get involved as a community member to begin building things and events and classes and spaces that could help my neighborhood. But, what I saw was the same old “pop-up” concept that serves no one but the “already-haves”. There was no info or discussion about community building or steps to take to be involved in the development. No info cards, no one going around to start conversations, no surveys, though I did become a “member” – (of what exactly?) My community arts friends (dedicated artists/teachers/community builders) all scoffed when I shared my excitement and hopes about the new positive developments at Bok. No way, they said, you don’t get it. It’s going to be condos and stuff for “hipsters” and gentrifiers. But I still had hope! Until I went to the dumb “Bok-Fin”. Prove to us, Lindsey, that you have the community at heart, that you know that our kids need the skills Bok used the workshops to train them with, that our community needs are recognized and valued. That you get the potential that is really there. That you get that so many of our schools have closed though the need for learning and community remains. Cause so far…

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  3. My understanding is that the District had the opportunity to take everything with them and opted not to (although much was taken–I guess they just had tons and tons of stuff!) While I agree with some of your points, I enjoyed seeing how they paid homage to the school and the original history and structure, while also looking towards the future.


  4. Kayla, I could not have said it any better. I am particularly frustrated by the fact that Bok was a vo-tech school. These schools are a tremendous asset to low income communities as they provide students with practical skills that can help them land descent paying jobs upon graduation. Tech schools are an effective alternative for those who cannot afford a college education. Instead, these students are being forced into overcrowded learning environments where their quality of education suffers greatly.

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