But what is the ultimate symbol of whiteness? In the same city where black elected officials pushed to ban bulletproof glass because it represented an “indignity” to blacks, a black elected official is now working to ban bay windows.
Because bay windows are a symbol of gentrification and a statement by colonizers (white people) – who dare move back to a city their ancestors fled because of black crime – the quality of life in the community is about to change for the better. [Councilman Kenyatta Johnson pushes ban on bay windows, seen as a symbol of gentrification, in his South Philly district, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 28, 2019]:
After coasting to an easy victory last week in what was expected to be a competitive and potentially groundbreaking Democratic primary election, City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson returned to Council just two days later with his eyes set on regulating new construction in his fast-gentrifying district — a contentious subject that was seen as a key issue in his primary race.
Johnson, who represents much of South Philadelphia, introduced a bill during City Council’s May 23 session that would ban balconies and bay windows across Point Breeze and Grays Ferry. The two architectural features would still be allowed outside of those two neighborhoods, but according to the bill, the distance from which they can project from a building would continue to be regulated.
Johnson’s legislation comes amid unprecedented change in his district, which stretches from the fast-gentrifying neighborhoods of Graduate Hospital and Point Breeze, to areas farther south and west, including the Navy Yard and Eastwick. Thousands of new rowhouses have been built, adding taller and showier structures to older and modest rowhouse blocks. The boxy, bump-out bay windows that Johnson aims to legislate have become a well-known architectural featureof Philadelphia’s construction boom, just asaluminum sidingand roof decks have.
For some homeowners in the market for newly constructed homes, balconies and bump-out bay windows offer two things that a traditional rowhouse can’t: additional space and light.
Other people see these architectural features as a defining symbol of gentrification — bringing with it anxieties about cost-of-living increases and displacement. And yet others worry that the features disrupt the appearance and character of older blocks.
Bay windows “are absolutely reflective of the change that has happened in that [area] in the last 15 years or so,” said Patrick Grossi, advocacy director for the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. “They are an icon of that change, and maybe for a lot of people, they are an icon of unwelcome change.”
Development tensions have become especially pronounced in South Philadelphia, where the population has grown wealthier and whiter in recent years. Graduate Hospital, for example, the neighborhood in Johnson’s district that is bounded by South Street, Washington Avenue, Broad Street and the Schuylkill, saw average incomes risefrom about $60,000 in 2006 to nearly $91,500 in 2017. The neighborhood’s African American population hasplummetedfrom roughly 80 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 2014.
Meanwhile, development pressures have stretched farther south. Point Breeze also has seen incomes rise, though much more modestlythan Graduate Hospital, its neighbor directly to the north. Earlier this year, several properties either belonging to or associated with Ori Feibush, a Point Breeze developer,were vandalized. Those incidents came roughly two years after a fire was set to four townhouses he was building; that was laterruled an arson.
Development tensions such as these were viewed as a central issue in the 2nd District primary, in which Johnson facedGraduate Hospital resident Lauren Vidas as a challenger. Vidas, a white lawyer and lobbyist, including for the soda industry, told The Inquirer she was running to prevent the displacement of longtime residents and to ensure that the district develop fairly and transparently. Johnson, who has represented the district for eight years, was born and raised in Point Breeze, and made that fact a fundamental part of his campaign, with the motto, “From Here. For Here.” Among other goals, he promised to fight for property tax relief.
“From Here. For Here.” Translation: I’m black and I remember when these streets dangerous and bulletproof glass was the only thing keeping a few convenience stores open in the area and our community from being a food desert, so you should vote for me. And if you do, I’ll ban bay windows and balconies, because they are a reminder white people aren’t afraid of their neighbors or being shot by a stray bullet.”
So the next time you, as a white person, enjoy your bay windows or your balcony, understand you are engaging in an act of white privilege, an ugly crime Councilman Johnson hopes to make illegal in his would-be Wakanda community in Philadelphia.