Nathaniel Popkin choose not a place, but the ubiquitous American sycamore tree

Nathaniel Popkin
Favorite Object: Philly’s Sycamore Trees
Neighborhood: All over

I am: Author of two books on the urban experience, I am co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and senior writer of the film project “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment.”
Years in Philly: 25
Current Home: Bella Vista

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My Love Note: I choose not a place, but an object in our landscape, the ubiquitous American sycamore tree. It is this tree, whose brittle bark begins to loosen and sail to the ground in the humid air of July and whose leaves turn to melon yellow in the November light, that for me measures out the Philadelphia year. In winter, the giant limbs, now naked white, hover over our sad deformed avenues and our empty parks and playgrounds.

The close cousin of this tree is the London plane, the iconic street tree of Europe, pruned into careful allees, and placed in monumental uniformity along boulevards and inside public gardens. So not only does the sycamore feel to me distinctively Philadelphian, but it also takes me far away to those distant cousin cities. This idea of being both mindfully present of our place in the urban world and far, far away is most telling at the Barnes Museum, where two rows of sycamores, preserved from the landscape of the Youth Study Center, and pruned slightly to feel slightly less wild and a bit more sculptural, filter the southern light before it hits the museum’s Jerusalem stone facade.

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