Demolished Refuge


Submitted by Alison Cornish, Philadelphia, PA: Demolished convent, damaged habitat

The site is 2322 Green Street, Philadelphia, just a couple of blocks from where I live.  When I moved here 2 years ago and started walking to work each morning, I was struck by this site, the backyard of a convent which had been designated as a Natural Habitat area.  There were signs noting that on the iron fence, and someone had painted a funny little picture frame and mounted it there, too, so you could look through a ‘window’ from the urban to the rural world.

Over the past month, the convent has been demolished, and the habitat bulldozed as well.  There are still some plants along the border, but the site is mostly wreckage of concrete and steel.  A couple of weeks ago, when I walked past this site, a young woman had gotten off her bike to take a picture of one of the ‘Natural Habitat’ signs with the destruction behind it. We talked together about what we’d miss about the place, and I decided it would be the right GEX for me.

I wanted to walk the circumference of the property, slowly, as if to a dirge, but I couldn’t get access to one side, so I walked back and forth 3 times, just looking, smelling, listening, touching (I noted that my performance may well have been filmed as the numerous signs declare that the site is under 24 hr. video surveillance!)  The last time round, I gathered the materials for the RadJoy bird, and wove them in to the fencing.

Then I sat on the steps of (ironically) St. Francis Xavier Church across the street, and listened to the birds. I thought about the Pope’s encyclical on global climate change released this week, and that, in a couple of months, Pope Francis will be celebrating mass just a couple of blocks away from where I was sitting.  The birds will find other places to nest and feed – maybe the mammals and reptiles and amphibians, too – and the plants, like the dandelion seed head I wove in to the fence, are already propagating themselves. But the urban landscape already has too few refuges for people and flora and fauna, and to see another one, no matter how small, first designated and then destroyed, is truly heartbreaking.

I went on for my morning walk, and over a hovering helicopter, could hear the birds singing all up and down the street.