After a weekend of thunderstorms and blustering rain, the weather calmed down for the first major action of Playgrounds for Useful Knowledge. Community leaders representing South Philadelphia’s rich diversity came together at the neighborhood hub for Action One: Sharing Knowledge.Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed opened the event with an interactive theater workshop, performing stories and images drawn from months of community research conducted by CohStra. Participants were invited to interpret what they saw, opening up conversations about vital neighborhood issues which were then continued in small committees facilitated by CohStra members.

Though each committee had a different focus—social, spacial, and economy—all of the conversations looped back to similar topics. A park—Mifflin Square—which hosts unlicensed vendors has become a point of contention. Some groups feel welcome, and many do not. Some feel that the best thing is to find a way to make the vendors legal, and celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit which attempts to solve the problem of poverty, leveraging the fact that city services pay little attention to this community. Others see the vendors as a nuisance, a danger, and a block to other groups. Trash, too, solidified in all three groups as a major divisive issue. Pervasive dumping plagues residents who want to live on beautiful blocks. The same story was repeated in different contexts: when I clean my garden in the morning, it is full of trash in the afternoon. On the way to work I see the park being cleaned, and on my drive home it is filthy again. These stories highlight important concerns which appear to be almost universal within South Philadelphia. Utilizing techniques inspired by Joseph Beuys, a secretary and a diagrammer sat with each committee, recording the ideas, complaints, hopes, and concerns expressed in the conversations. The committees will continue to meet through the following month, moving on from expressing issues to imagining potential solutions, and on July 18th, at the second action, a larger public will be invited into the conversation.
All photos by Steve Weinik.
Major support for Playgrounds for Useful Knowledge has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.