I’ve given lots of people tours of Northeast Philadelphia, but only ever to friends and always informally.
So I was interested by a request from Neil Budde to do a sort of ride-along in the Northeast. Budde is new in town and was recently named the head of Temple University’s Philadelphia Public Interest Information Network, housed under the Center for Public Interest Journalism and funded by the William Penn Foundation.
It’s not clear yet what PPIIN will be, what it will do or what players it will incorporate. But to figure all that out, Budde has been meeting with Philadelphia-area journalists and publishers. That’s how I came to find an email in my inbox requesting that I give a tour of the Northeast, the part of Philadelphia I’m from and the focus of my hyperlocal news site, NEast Philly.
So, off we went at 5 p.m. on an April weeknight. A three-hour, 43-mile tour through Northeast Philadelphia. We didn’t hit it all, but we covered the basics. The idea was to give Budde a sense of what the Northeast – an often under-reported part of Philadelphia – is about. Who lives there? What are their issues? Who’s in charge and how do people interact?
There are more than 400,000 people in the Northeast – of the 1.5 million in the city as a whole. And depending on how you break it down, there are between 40 and 50 neighborhoods. Northeast Philadelphia is not small. It’s large, disjointed and cut off from the rest of the city in the literal and figurative sense. Because of that, the media’s perception of it is skewed.
To help give Budde the clearest sense of what living in the Northeast means, we invited a handful of involved residents to the Mayfair Diner. We met up with them post-tour to discuss what issues matter to them most, where their neighborhoods are struggling and thriving and how all of that is (and isn’t) reflected in media coverage.
It’s early in the game, if you can even call it a game at this point. Budde is still finding his footing and navigating the appropriate path for PPIIN. For starters, PPIIN has dipped its toe into the city’s deep pool of data, producing easy-to-use maps and graphs of city information that hadn’t been curated up to this point. We’ll see where that takes Philadelphia media and if NEast Philly has a role there. Regardless, it was refreshing to see someone new in town take an interest in the area most residents pay the least attention to.