In The Neighborhood, Defying Labels


Editor’s Note: Last May, the Inquirer wrote about tensions between longtime neighborhood residents living west of Broad Street adjacent to Temple University and developers renovating row houses and building new units for the school’s burgeoning student population.

The comments on the articles haven’t been preserved for posterity in the paper’s online archives (which is generally a good thing), but we recall that some people said the area was a bad neighborhood now on its way to becoming a good one thanks to the influx of new development and population. Students were breathing new life into a place that was essentially dead. “They”–always “they”–have no right to squawk since they were the ones who allowed it become dilapidated, so said some comments.

Few habits of thought are more pernicious to city life than dividing neighborhoods into “good” ones and “bad.” Such thinking provided the license for the wholesale clearance of what were called “slum” areas in the 1960s, and it still serves as a ready justification for gentrification, slap-dash development and writing off vast swatches of the city. The neighborhood around Temple was and is impoverished, and suffers from a high level of violent crime (there were 75 murders between 2000 and 2011 in the area bounded by Broad and 21st Streets, and York and Dauphin Streets). It still isn’t what we could call a vibrant neighborhood–there aren’t enough shops or restaurants, and the streets don’t have the necessary bustling quality. But it is a community nonetheless, one that is more close-knit than many in the city.

Jessie Fox set out with her camera to capture the life of this neighborhood and came back with this photo essay. Her photographs remind us that people living in poorer areas don’t call their neighborhood “bad”; they just call it “home.”

Master Barber James Johnson. Tommy’s Barber Shop, 15th St. and Susquehanna Ave. | Photo: Jessie Fox

Mr. Tom, owner of Tommy’s Barbershop | Photo: Jessie Fox

Tommy’s Barber Shop, 15th and Susquehanna Avenue | Photo: Jessie Fox

After school, Tree House Books, 16th St. and Susquehanna Ave. | Photo: Jessie Fox

Raziq, 17th and Susquehanna Avenue | Photo: Jessie Fox

After school at Treehouse Books | Photo: Jessie Fox

North Broad Street | Photo: Jessie Fox

At the basketball courts after school. Penrose Park | Photo: Jessie Fox

James Johnson is a community activist as well as a barber. North Broad Street | Photo: Jessie Fox

Mustafa and Wayne, Tommy’s Barbershop | Photo: Jessie Fox

North Broad St. | Photo: Jessie Fox

North Broad St. | Photo: Jessie Fox

16th St. and Susquehanna Ave. | Photo: Jessie Fox

16th Street | Photo: Jessie Fox

Broad St. and Cecil B Moore Ave. | Photo: Jessie Fox

About the author

Jessie Fox is a recent graduate from Temple University who works as a photojournalist for the agency Here's My Chance. She grew up in a small town and now walks the streets of Philly with (almost always) a camera in hand. Fox graduated with a degree in Photojournalism and somehow works that aspect into her everyday life. She feels as though everyone has a story to tell and that there will always be someone who is willing to listen. She wants her photography to go beyond what is and help people to connect to others in a way they never thought possible.


  1. Awesome, awesome album! Its strange how many forget that people do indeed call these places home.

  2. Jessie makes photographs that are more than pictures, they are portraits of trust and respect

  3. Jessie manages to capture something beyond a human figure with her photgraphy. Looking at the subjects in her photos I feel as if I am speaking to the person and their personality has been imbued on the film.

  4. rachel hildebrandt

    this is an outstandingly piece! the comments under so many inquirer stories and naked philly blog posts are disheartening beyond words. everyone needs to be reminded that “good” and “bad” are gross oversimplifications and also that gentrification is about much more than rising property taxes; it fractures entire communities’ connection to place and identity

  5. Great pictures and great intro. Don’t let few hundred violent incidents overshadow the million points of humanity that exists underneath.

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