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Alex has been fascinated by construction ever since he was a little kid. He delighted in building child-size structures out of LEGOs and K’Nex growing up. In college he studied engineering, and now he earns a living in construction and food service.
He’s also fascinated by Philly’s current development boom — and frustrated that it’s not being properly documented.
“There’s really no collective effort to see the changes,” Alex told Billy Penn. “We’re losing history.”
In order to do what he could to help, Alex — who asked that only his first name be used because he prefers to remain anonymous — started @phillyrises. The two-year-old Instagram account is dedicated to sharing photos of development projects all over the city.
“If it’s under construction,” the bio reads, “expect a pic.”
The account includes photos from neighborhoods spread across Philadelphia, but so far, Alex is its sole contributor. He lives in Chinatown, and finds himself most often in Fishtown and University City, so the PhillyRises posts end up somewhat concentrated there.
“I try to cover the whole city, but there’s obviously neighborhoods I’m in more than others,” Alex said, noting that he’d happily take submissions if others wanted to contribute. “I was already covering most of the city in my day-to-day life, so I might as well take some photos.”
Alex hopes his photos inspires others to move to the city (he came in 2010) — and that it also encourages people who already live here to venture outside their own neighborhoods.
He recognizes that the building crush Philly’s experienced lately hasn’t come without some controversy, and that much new construction is met with worries about gentrification — that it will force long-term residents who can’t afford the new developments to leave.
“I go to places and there’s graffiti on the walls saying, ‘Stop pushing us out, stop building shit,’” he said. “There needs to be a balance.”
Northern Liberties, for example, he describes as “crazy” because of all the multi-million dollar construction projects he’s documented there recently.
Arguments will always happen over urban construction, Alex realizes, but development is “going to happen regardless,” he said. “It’s just a matter of developers being smart and accommodating everybody.”
Although it’s been an Instagram-only project so far, people can expect some PhillyRises innovations to show up soon, including a website with an interactive map that plots the points of construction shown in pics.
He hopes that eventually, the account will become recognized enough that he can get legitimate access to photograph construction sites, instead of “jumping fences.” In the meantime, Alex said, he doesn’t plan to stop documenting — for the sake of history.
“Stuff is changing here,” he said. “This is not an opportunity to be missed.”