In The Cosmopolitan Canopy, the author, Elijah Anderson, discusses and describes public areas in the city of Philadelphia, where diverse groups of people can mingle and relax in peace, despite their differences. Anderson refers to these public spaces as “cosmopolitan canopies. ” According to the author, who has lived and worked in different areas of Philadelphia for over 30 years, the city is more racially, ethnically, and socially diverse than ever and is full of “canopies,” which allows strangers to fearlessly interact with each other (Anderson, xv).
The author provides a vivid description of the city as it would be seen on a walking tour, emphasizing the cosmopolitan canopies, as well as areas that could be classified as de facto segregation and usually experience more racial tension from visiting outsiders and other ethnic and social groups. Anderson also discusses instances of racial discrimination that affect, and perhaps prevent, the creation of canopies in certain neighborhoods.
One of the main observations made by Anderson in this text was how pedestrians tend to avoid contact with strangers and force themselves to fake indifference to the diverse crowd of people around them, saying “skin color becomes a social border” (Anderson, 2). On a busy city sidewalk, people often walk defensively and try to keep a safe distance from strangers, especially if the strangers have a certain unappealing appearance. Anderson addresses common stereotypes associated with different races and recognizes that many people struggle to see those who are different past the color of their skin.
Black males, in particular, face higher amounts of scrutiny, discomfort, and distrust from the people around them on city streets. In general, people tend to feel more at ease when they are surrounded by others who are similar to themselves and familiar with what they already know. Skin color isn’t the only factor that people take into account when attempting to protect themselves from strangers. Pedestrians are also often very wary of poor beggars, homeless people, criminals, and the mentally disturbed.
When people are approached by or even in the vicinity of these less fortunate and potentially dangerous strangers, they prepare to defend themselves and try to distance themselves as much as possible. People try their best to avoid interaction with the poor and sick as much as possible. From my own experience on Temple University’s campus, there is often a black woman standing outside of the Johnson and Hardwick dining hall, begging students for spare change. Most students give her an apology and reply that they have no change.
However, I have witnessed on a few occasions students going out of their way to avoid her, students pretending that they didn’t see or hear her, and students who actually started walking faster to get away sooner, all without even acknowledging the poor woman. However, in cosmopolitan canopies, such as Penn’s Landing, Reading Terminal, Love Park, and Rittenhouse Square, Anderson found a reprieve from the racial tensions that are present in other parts of Philadelphia. In these areas, diverse groups of people willingly occupy the same space, accept each other, and interact peacefully.
Canopies are unique because no one group can claim it as their own (Anderson, 5). Public spaces such as these also offer people opportunities to interact with strangers in a safe setting, to try new things, or to just observe the diversity and humanity surrounding them. People don’t even have to directly interact with each other in order for an area to be considered a canopy. As long as an area is a judgment-free zone and is devoid of tension and fear, any public space being occupied by a large amount of diverse people can be a canopy.
For example, in my own observations of Temple University’s Beach and Bell Tower, most people didn’t interact with the individuals around them, but there was a large variety of people, doing different activities, all occupying the same space in peace and comfort. In contrast, Anderson also acknowledges areas of Philadelphia that are not cosmopolitan canopies. In fact, these areas are the opposite of canopies. They are inhabited by a single racial, ethnic, or social group and often displays instances of discrimination and de facto segregation.
It is not uncommon for poorer neighborhoods to fall victim to these qualities. For example, the area of the city starting at Market Street leading into Ninth Street, near the Gallery shopping center, is known for its black and ethnic presence, as well as a large amount of unemployed. According to Anderson, this neighborhood “gives serious pause to members of the typical suburban crowd” (8). Another tense area is in West Philadelphia, past Fifty-Second Street.
This is another African American dominant neighborhood lacking city services and employment opportunities, causing the area to consist of racial discrimination and black poverty (Anderson, 27). However, Anderson also describes areas of Philadelphia that don’t quite fit the mold of a canopy, but are also more diverse and somewhat tolerant of others when compared to other areas. These grey areas are almost canopies in the sense that they have large groups of diverse people gathered in the same space, interacting, except, discrimination is still present.
For example, Anderson describes an open air market, west of the Gallery, where many vendors gather to sell a wide array of goods to passersby. Most of the clientele are black, and yet they still face discrimination from the ethnic vendors. However, the vendors tolerate the African Americans, and the blacks continue to buy from the racist vendors (Anderson, 9). So, these types of scenes aren’t quite canopies, but the people in these places tolerate and accept each other enough to do business.
I also believe that the professional business environment can be considered an inbetween area, an almost-but-not-quite-a-canopy. Anderson implies that the business scene is a canopy, however he also emphasizes the unfair ratio of white to black businessmen. The professional and executive world is primarily white. In groups of businessmen wandering around the city during their lunch breaks, it is not uncommon to discover that the majority of the men are white, perhaps accompanied by a single black man.
Therefore, corporations may be considered micro-canopies since they have diverse employees working together and getting along, but they can’t always be considered true canopies due to the fact that many colored and ethnic professionals face racism in the workplace. Anderson expresses that black professionals may be “expected to represent the race” or be “mistaken for their poor and marginalized cousins from the ghetto” (15). In conclusion, the notion of cosmopolitan canopies in widely diverse cities, such as Philadelphia, is greatly supported by Anderson’s research and evidence.
His argument that there are areas where people can ignore their differences and interact without prejudice or tension presents valid insight into today’s world and offers his readers a new perspective on city life and discrimination. During my own observations at Temple’s Beach and Bell Tower, I witnessed all sorts of people gathered in one area, either laying out in the sun alone, relaxing or doing homework, or sitting in small groups, enjoying the weather and chatting with their friends.
In addition, almost all of the groups that were gathered there were extremely diverse, consisting of different ethnicities and genders, which supports Anderson’s theory that there are places where people can forget about their differences and come together. Therefore, I found the ideas presented by Anderson in this text to be fairly congruent to my own experiences and observations at Temple University.