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.