In 2011 I moved to center city Philadelphia for the first time in my life. Never having spent time here before, I found myself noticing every little detail about this city. The behavior of people as they passed me on the sidewalk. The variety of things which can be found on the ground on any given day. The things that are tossed on the street and treated as garbage, and things that are carefully packed neatly in a box and set out as ‘free’ items. It is a diverse city but it is not progressive. The young people who live here and push on the barriers of the status quo are not welcomed with open arms. Bikes are stolen regularly, cars broken into. Garbage thrown around on the ground by people of all ages. Philadelphia residents would sooner throw a glass bottle down in the street than recycle it.
It appears that the low-income residents of Philadelphia, specifically South Philadelphia, want things to stay as they are. Slightly junky, gritty, urban, tough. They don’t want to improve. They don’t want others trying to make things better.
But what confuses me is that if this is true, in a culture of trash and status quo, why do I find so many scratch off lotto tickets strewn around the streets? Anyone who spends 1,2,5,10, or 20 dollars on a single lottery ticket must as some level have hope for a grand fortune, a better life, extravagance, wealth, power, beautiful surroundings.
I began to notice the scratch offs right away as I walked to and from the university each day. They are brightly colored in a glossy finish with only a bit of gray showing from where the customer scratched away just enough of the card to see they were not going to become millionaires today. The cards stay bright and fairly strong after rain or being driven over or even sometimes being ripped into small pieces by the frustrated loser.
These scratch offs create a line of poverty and of hope, woven through Philadelphia. It is hard to see but if you look, there is evidence in the litter of the scratch off that the people here may want change, they may want things to improve even if they aren’t willing to admit it.