From Toynbee to Robot in the City

In August of this year it will be five years since my wife and I moved out to the far suburbs of Philadelphia. It was a big transition, I had been living and working in the city for more than eight years.

Some things about the city I identified and missed immediately. Not the least of which being able to run out at almost any hour of any day and find a shop open that sold that one thing I needed. Where I live now, if you find yourself needing anything you can not buy at a grocery store on a Sunday after 9PM. . . you will wait until Monday morning to get it. The biggest bonus of living and working in the city by far was being in walking distance and of and having the ability to stop at Reading Terminal Market on the way home from work and buy any type of meat, fix, produce, cheese, charcuterie, etc.

I was recently in the city to hear a talk at University of the Arts and found myself actually thankful that I had mistakenly parked at a garage farther away than I should have. The night had already mellowed the city’s heat, and the electric light had transformed daylight spaces to romantic nighttime ones.

I was annoyed that I opted to leave my camera kit at home in the interest of convenience. The best camera is the one you have with you, and suddenly my terribly deficient cellphone camera got an undeserved promotion.

I had accidentally stumbled over another thing about the city that I had forgotten I missed: the random little oddities.

Detail of Robot at Broad and Spruce

Detail of Robot at Broad and Spruce

Just outside the Kimmel Center, looking up at me from the asphalt was a small (about a foot tall) figure of a robot .

Robot at Broad and Spruce

Robot at Broad and Spruce

Suddenly a memory of the Toynbee Plaques rushed into my mind. How could I have ever forgotten those quirky, and mysterious artifacts?

The Toynbee Plaques (or Toynbee Tiles if you prefer) sprang up in the 1980s in numerous US cities and some South American ones (including Buenos Aires coincidentally) and cryptically denounced some possible shadowy governmental conspiracy. Whatever they were really meant to be, they were fascinating. By the time I became aware of them, most of the ones still left in Philadelphia were either wearing away or had been paved over. I was able to photograph a couple of them.

Detail of Toynbee plaque on the West side of City Hall, Philadelphia, PA

Detail of Toynbee plaque on the West side of City Hall, Philadelphia, PA

Toynbee plaque on the West side of City Hall, Philadelphia, PA

Toynbee plaque on the West side of City Hall, Philadelphia, PA

Detail of Toynbee plaque near Love Park, Philadelphia, PA

Detail of Toynbee plaque near Love Park, Philadelphia, PA

Toynbee plaque near Love Park, Philadelphia, PA

Toynbee plaque near Love Park, Philadelphia, PA

Is Mr Robot a Toynbee Plaque copycat, a tribute, totally unrelated? Either way, I hope I see more of him.

 

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