Over the last 200 years, hundreds of thousands of architectural drawings, photographs, and maps of greater Philadelphia have been entrusted to The Athenaeum of Philadelphia for safekeeping. In many ways, the brownstone on Washington Square has served as a repository to Philadelphia’s past. But the Athenaeum’s director, Peter Conn, wants it to be a platform for discussing Philadelphia’s future.
“We would like to incorporate into our mission and our purpose the conservation of our city’s past, [while] also calling attention to contemporary Philadelphia, across a wide range of issues,” says Conn.
Over the last several years, Conn has brought to the Athenaeum a series of discussions addressing issues like immigration, education, economic development, and mass incarceration in Philadelphia. And next Wednesday, Larry Platt, The Citizen’s outspoken co-founder and co-executive director, will host a lively (free) discussion there. Entitled “Reinvigorating Citizenship in the Birthplace of American Democracy,” Platt, who’s equally critical of and besotted with his native Philly, will address the media’s role in the future of our city.
He’s uniquely positioned to do so: As the former editor of The Daily News and Philadelphia magazine, Platt says that conventional media has made people cynical by not focusing on solutions or engagement. When, in 2015, he co-founded The Philadelphia Citizen, he envisioned it as a tool to “get regular citizens off the sidelines to take back their city.”
An unofficial Philly scholar, Platt is quick to point out that when a 32-year-old Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Constitution in a basement at 7th and Market streets, “Our city was forming an army of citizens that was literally reinventing the way we all lived together. I think today, those Philadelphians––Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin––are gyrating in their graves.”
Consider this: The Corporation for National and Community Service last year found that only 34 percent of Philadelphians volunteer, while a mere 22 percent do something positive for their neighborhoods. And while this week Philadelphia went to the polls, turnout was still an abysmal 23 percent. For Platt, media is partially responsible for these statistics because it has beaten the electorate into apathy.
“Media that just does the stenography of who-said-what yesterday or the scandal du jour is actually working against the principles of our founding,” says Platt. “Media needs to play a role in not just informing, but getting people involved.”
One fun way to take the first step: Join Platt at the Athenaeum next week.
Wednesday, May 29th, 3 pm-4 pm, Free, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 219 S 6th St.