Sea Foam City

Among the best entries in our Philadelphia city form contest–city as Dantean hell, city as mirrored opposites, city as cheesesteak (3rd runner-up), city as hard drive–the most thoughtful metaphor came from reader Sarah Singer Quast. “Philly, and many cities for that matter,” she wrote, “remind me of a group of sea bubbles, neighborhoods that sit beside one another in random fashion. Well not entirely random, a strong neighborhood is likely to help support a strong neighborhood next to it–just as sea bubbles prop one another up.”

We liked her sea bubbles idea so much–and not just because we think global warming-related sea level rise is going to give Philadelphia an oceanfront–that she will receive a Hidden City Philadelphia membership and souvenir hardhat.

Quast’s idea is reminiscent of “cosmopolitan canopies,” a metaphor for social behavior in the city devised by legendary sociologist Elijah Anderson. Perhaps these two metaphors overlay.

Here’s what else Quast’s entry had to say:

It is these neighborhoods that serve as the centers of the city, they differ in size and shape. We have an area of Philadelphia that we call Center City, but those of us who live here actually think of several different bubbles that make up Center City–Old City, Midtown Village, Fitler’s Square, etc., and we could all probably identify a space that we think of as the center of those neighborhoods.

If you want to take the metaphor a little further, the fragility of the bubbles also is representative of neighborhoods in cities. External factors, particularly economic conditions, have the potential to burst these little bubbles. Without knowing the science behind it I even wonder if smaller sea bubbles are likely to pop before larger bubble–in other words, do well-established, stronger bubbles (neighborhoods) withstand external conditions more successfully?

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. Popkin's literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, and The Millions. He is writer-in-residence of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Urban Decay As American As Beer And Apple Pie

Urban Decay As American As Beer And Apple Pie

February 21, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow taps into Philly beer history and frozen pie trivia at the old Adam Scheidt Brewing Company plant on North 9th Street > more

Unlisted Philadelphia: Atlantic Snuff Company

Unlisted Philadelphia: Atlantic Snuff Company

February 17, 2017  |  Unlisted Philadelphia

Architectural illustrator Ben Leech spotlights unique and significant buildings not protected on the local register with his series, Unlisted Philadelphia. In this installment, a High Victorian in Chinatown that's still up to snuff > more

Inside The Empty, Gilded Halls Of Elkins Estate

Inside The Empty, Gilded Halls Of Elkins Estate

February 16, 2017  |  Last Light

Photographer Kris Catherine gives an exclusive look inside the opulent mansions of Elkins Estate > more

Dial Up For The Latest Election News

Dial Up For The Latest Election News

February 14, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. dials up the Evening Telegraph Information Bureau, a pilot communications service in 1905 that provided Keystone Telephone customers with news and information at a moment's notice > more

La Salle University Threatens Germantown Landmarks

La Salle University Threatens Germantown Landmarks

February 9, 2017  |  Soapbox

On Friday, the Historical Commission will consider legal protections for two historic Germantown homes. Owners La Salle University will oppose the nominations to retain their right to demolition. Arielle Harris makes a case for saving these two Wister family properties and reveals La Salle's long tradition of razing neighborhood landmarks > more

Paging Dr. Typewriter: Healing Old Tech On Fabric Row

Paging Dr. Typewriter: Healing Old Tech On Fabric Row

February 8, 2017  |  Walk the Walk

Bryan Kravitz brings old Remingtons back from the dead at his repair shop in Mt. Airy and typing salon in South Philly. Joe Brin has the story > more