“What’s going to happen to the theatre at the 4700 block of Germantown Avenue?” asked local resident Learley Wilkins about the landmark she said was built in the 1800s. “Some bank in Florida owns it.”
This was just one of the questions raised in response to graduate students from Temple University when they set up a table at the Vernon Park Flea Market in Germantown to conduct community outreach on Saturday, Oct. 20. The purpose was to gather information for the Germantown Info Huband the Broke in Philly collaboration.
As with other outreach projects conducted through the Germantown Info Hub and reporting for Broke in Philly, the goal is to seek input from the community and residents of a neighborhood. Instead of reporters being the only ones to decide what a community should know or what the journalists should investigate, input is sought from community members through engagement activities like the one that took place last Saturday.
Not surprisingly, residents had a lot to offer when posed with questions about what they would like to know, who are neighbors who deserve recognition or what is going on in Germantown that is good and people should know about.
Cheryl Smith has lived in Germantown for more than 40 years, since she was 10 years old.
“My area is becoming really gentrified,” Smith said. “Which is not a bad thing, but it isn’t helping the neighbors that have been there.”
The students used different techniques to talk and interact with Germantown residents to get a sense of how to direct news coverage in the area. While the students won’t be doing the reporting, the findings will be turned over to the Info Hub and to Broke in Philly to work with journalists from the more than 20 local news organizations participating in the initiative. What distinguishes the coverage through Broke in Philly is it aims to not only talk about the issues but also report on responses to the problems and possible solutions. Last year’s focus was on prisoner re-entry, while this year the focus is economic justice.
Some themes came up multiple times, yet people had varying opinions and perspectives on whether these topics were good or bad. Some appreciated public spaces such as Vernon Park while others mourned and lamented the loss of other parks or playgrounds.
Despite acknowledging there are issues in Germantown which need addressing, many locals echo the sentiments of Alice Davis, who has lived in the neighborhood all her life.
“Being a small part of the city, there’s a lot of close relationships,” she said. “Your neighbors feel like family. Your friends feel like family. Everybody is a family.”