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The Philadelphia Barrio

The Arts, Branding, and Neighborhood Transformation

How does a so-called bad neighborhood go about changing its reputation? Is it simply a matter of improving material conditions or picking the savviest marketing strategy? What kind of role can or should the arts play in that process? Does gentrification always entail a betrayal of a neighborhood’s roots? Tackling these questions and offering a fresh take on the dynamics of urban revitalization, The Philadelphia Barrio examines one neighborhood’s fight to erase the stigma of devastation.

Frederick F. Wherry shows how, in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Centro de Oro, entrepreneurs and community leaders forged connections between local businesses and cultural institutions to rebrand a place once nicknamed the Badlands. Artists and performers negotiated with government organizations and national foundations, Wherry reveals, and took to local galleries, stages, storefronts, and street parades in a concerted, canny effort to reanimate the spirit of their neighborhood.

Complicating our notions of neighborhood change by exploring the ways the process is driven by local residents, The Philadelphia Barrio presents a nuanced look at how city dwellers can make commercial interests serve the local culture, rather than exploit it.

208 pages | 23 halftones, 2 maps, 2 line drawings, 7 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Sociology: Social Change, Social Movements, Political Sociology, Sociology of Arts--Leisure, Sports, Urban and Rural Sociology


“In this bold and deeply original work, Wherry takes sociological understandings of the American underclass to a new level. Against cynical ‘realism,’ he makes a cultural-sociological case for the power of agency and performance and how the arts can effect the material transformation of impoverished ethnic communities.”

Jeffrey C. Alexander, Yale University

“Many of Philadelphia’s ethnic enclaves are celebrated for their vibrant art scenes and urban culture, yet simultaneously maligned as dangerous pockets of crime and poverty. In The Philadelphia Barrio, Wherry illustrates how a variety of community stakeholders—including residents, shop owners and restaurateurs, artists and performers, and local organizers and activists—try to rejuvenate their neighborhood with creativity and sweat equity in the hopes of resuscitating not only its economic vitality but its honor and symbolic reputation in the city as well. In doing so, he shows us how the character of an urban area need not be etched in asphalt and concrete for all time. This is a beautiful book.”

David Grazian, University of Pennsylvania

Table of Contents

1: Culture at Work
The Arts, Branding, and Neighborhood Transformation
2: Latin Soul, Latin Flavor
Performing the Authenticity of Place
3: The Art World of the Barrio
Sources of Attraction and Motivation
4: Ringing the Registers
Entrepreneurial Dreams
5: Stigma, Status, and Staging
The History of a Reputation
6: Character on Parade
Cultural Constraints on Neighborhood Branding
7: Redemption and Revitalization in the Barrio
A Tentative Conclusion
Appendix: Telling It like It Was
Methods and Data
NotesWorks CitedIndex

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