The assignment was simple: shoot some photos to illustrate a story by PlanPhilly concerning the 16 story high-rise housing project at 301 West Queen Lane in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.
Blue sky and fluffy clouds formed a vibrant backdrop behind the building. I walked around and choose an angle with the nice sky in the back. As I panned down with my lens to find the right composition, I zoomed in on three senior men sitting in the shade under the trees in front of the building. They were watching what I was doing and invited me to come over and talk. “If you want to take some good photos than walk to the back, with the clothes lines hanging there it looks like one of those immigrant places”, one of the man said.
Friendly Freddy, JB and Willie Perry all lived in the tall building behind them and they were clearly upset with its present state. All three stated that they believed the structure from the 50s to be okay but told that the dirty hallway smells like the subway on a warm day. Willie Perry, a retired plumber who grew up in Northwest Philadelphia has doubts about the layout of the systems inside. “If this was owned by a private company they would not have gotten their permits”, he stated. One of Perry’s concerns is about the bathrooms. He described a situation with no windows and lack of ventilation resulting in mold and mildew. Friendly Freddy interrupted his friend with the words, “I only have one thing to say and that is: ridiculous”, and then he left for a block party around the corner organized by the local church.
Open-hearted Willie Perry stated that he had to make a decision in moving into these apartments after his wife died some years ago. Perry claimed that in order be able to afford the 21k per year private education for his daughter, he had to live here. Perry explains he wants to give her a chance to get out of the neighborhood. “However, Perry continued, it is not what children learn at school that determines how they will grow up, it is what they are affected with in their neighborhood and at home. What does it matter if they learn about history and do well in after-school programs if they are influenced by people around them dealing drugs?”
As Perry was explaining his situation, a red sports car with a loud exhaust stopped at the corner of Pulaski Avenue and West Queen Lane. A group of local young men, attired in typical street wear, “wife-beater” shirts, low hanging jeans, were hanging out on the stoop across the street. Some of the man stood up and approached the car to sell something to the driver, a white male in his twenties.
It seemed that Willie Perry and his friends didn’t notice the scene at all.
While the exchange transpired behind Willie Perry’s back he optimistically expressed, “Maybe after my daughter is graduated and off on her own I will go back to school myself”.
(13 photo slideshow with all the image of this reportage can be found here)