At Philly’s new observation deck, voices of color shouldn’t be left out

philly observation deck
The view from One Liberty Observation Deck. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)

AAJA-Philadelphia co-president Juliana Reyes was reporting a story last week when she came across something troubling.

The story was about how Philadelphia is getting its first observation deck this fall.
It’s an exciting development: On the 57th floor of Center City’s Liberty One skyscraper, the public will be able to see gorgeous 360-degree views of the city. They’ll also be able to explore an interactive map with historical information and facts about various landmarks around the city.

One Liberty Observation Deck, under the guise of observation deck operator Montparnasse 56, is working with four notable Philadelphians who will help curate content for the map — artist Isaiah Zagar, sports radio personality Mike Missanelli, DJ Cyndy Drue and VisitPhilly’s Cara Schneider. They’ll share anecdotes and their expertise about the city, so the map can have content that isn’t found in the history books or tourist guides, a spokeswoman said. But not one of those people are people of color, and in a city that’s roughly 46 percent white, 44 percent black, 13 percent Latino, and 7 percent Asian, that’s a mistake.

Through its interactive map, One Liberty Observation Deck has the power to shape how people see Philadelphia. It’s an opportunity to showcase the incredible diversity of the voices that make up our city. Leaving out voices of color sends the message that those stories aren’t as important.

This is a deck that’s built for the public. That’s why it’s crucial to make sure that the stories it shares represent the richness of Philadelphia: The stories we read — or don’t read — about our city impact how we see ourselves, how we understand our place in Philadelphia and its history.

When AAJA-Philly’s Reyes asked Evan Evans, general manager of the One Liberty Observation Deck, about this, he said he planned to add more content about landmarks going forward. A spokeswoman for the deck added that the four curators who are working on the project volunteered to do so after an open call “to a diverse, wide group” and that she hoped that more Philadelphians would do the same.

“The goal is to make it a robust portrayal of Philadelphia,” the spokeswoman said.

We hope One Liberty Observation Deck will turn to some of Philadelphia’s many impressive people of color to help tell a fuller story to its visitors. How about Philly’s first poet laureate Sonia Sanchez? Former Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall? John Chin from the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation?

Who would you like to see sharing stories for One Liberty Observation Deck’s map? Send your suggestions on Twitter to @PhillyFromTop and use the hashtag #MoreVoicesOnDeck

AAJA-Philadelphia, Board