The Death of Gentrification Guilt

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The Death of Gentrification Guilt
© Michelle Gustafson
The Death of Gentrification Guilt
© Michelle Gustafson

On the bleeding edge of Center City, young, privileged, and plugged-in New Philadelphians have grown tired of apologizing for their presence.

A few months ago, developer Lindsey Scannapieco paid $1.75 million for a 340,000-square-foot property in South Philadelphia right around the corner from my apartment. For 75 years, the building had been the Edward W. Bok Technical High School, until officials closed it and 23 other public schools in 2013 amid major financial cutbacks. Scannapieco and her team immediately got to work transforming the rooftop of the eight-story building into a pop-up French restaurant. They installed a kitchen and two open-air bars. They drew up a menu: $6 “Paris” hot dogs, $8 baguettes, $12 charcuterie plates. Where the school’s flag once flew, they raised their own. And exactly one month later, Le Bok Fin was open.

Overnight, Le Bok Fin became the destination of summer for a certain slice of New Philadelphia. On weekends, hundreds of young, taut, mostly white patrons happily waited in line for a rickety old elevator that took them to the rooftop of the old vo-tech school. I was one of them (although my taut days are behind me). The drinks were good, and the view of the city’s skyline was stunning. But I was troubled a bit by an unsettling feeling that my fellow New Philadelphians and I were fiddling while Rome burned. No one else seemed concerned. They were having too much fun. A night at Le Bok Fin was a voyeuristic adventure with unrivaled selfie settings: the dusty lockers, the old gymnasium, the “Do Not Drink From Sinks” signs in the bathrooms. At least one couple staged a back-to-school-themed wedding shoot at the building. Le Bok Fin had gone Philly-viral. Soon, so would the debate over its ephemeral, five-week existence. […]

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