At the age of five, Taryn Flaherty (C ‘25) was already an activist. Of course, she put her own childhood spin on it, adding a tasteful fairytale touch.
A Philly native, Taryn grew up on the front lines of Chinatown’s fight against gentrification and for the preservation of its colorful community. While attending the Folk Arts–Cultural Treasures Charter School in Chinatown, she learned about the importance of leveraging heritage as a vehicle for change. “It's very moving, even as a young child, to see your teachers not only in your classrooms but also in the streets with you—yelling, fighting, and giving speeches about their personal experiences,” Taryn says.
When she was in kindergarten, her community mobilized to fight against the development of a casino in Chinatown. “My mom was super involved in the casino fight … I remember going to a lot of these protests,” Taryn reflects upon some of her earliest memories. In kindergarten, she attended a protest in fairy wings and a tiara as part of a performance on the harms of casino development in Chinatown. Ultimately, activists like Taryn’s mother were successful in preventing developers from building a casino in their neighborhood.
But more than a decade later, Chinatown faces a new threat as developers propose building a new 76ers stadium adjacent to the lively community, which would ultimately result in intense gentrification and displacement within the community.
“Now 14 years later, I'm seeing this exact same fight that I heard so much about [in] my youth and even before,” Taryn says. “I was kind of shocked when I first heard that these developers are still trying [to develop in Chinatown], even though they know how harmful it is and how much the community doesn't want it. We've shown time and time again [that] we do not want these large developers in our neighborhoods.”
Taryn and her childhood best friend Kaia decided to start Students for the Preservation of Chinatown to organize students from across the Philly area to fight for their cause. “We are representing students, so we didn't want to just be anti–arena or anti–developers,” Taryn says of the coalition’s calculated name choice. “We were looking for a larger vision of preserving Chinatown: preserving cultural spaces, homes, and ethnic communities.” Organizing was no easy feat. “We had only gone to protests and like, you know, maybe we stay the whole time, maybe we don't. But [we had] never been the ones to lead this protest. It's kind of nerve-wracking, kind of exciting, thrilling,” Taryn said.
Active within the Penn community as a board member of Penn’s Asian Pacific Student Coalition, she urges her peers to get involved in the Chinatown fight. Taryn highlights how Penn students are inherently connected to the Chinatown development—considering that one of the main developers, David Adelman, is the owner of Campus Apartments. “And Penn students come to Chinatown all the time. You can't just think of it as this consumer market for yourself. This is a community. This is a residential neighborhood that provides this for you,” Taryn says. “Now that Chinatown is under attack, where are you going to be? Are you going to be with us? Or are you not going to care and then be upset in a couple of years when you don't have the community to go to?”
Fortunately, SPOC received support from other organizations in the Philly area, including Save the UC Townhomes and Asian Americans United. Ultimately, SPOC hosted their first action on Nov. 18—and it was a smashing success. “We just got photos from the protests and I was like, ‘Was that me?’ I was doing that? That's crazy.” Rummaging through her pocket for her phone to show pictures of the protest, Taryn pulls out the schedule. It’s filled with a list of speakers, including activists from decades past who dedicated their lives to preserving their community. Evidently, fighting for Chinatown isn’t a one–time thing.
A five–year–old fairy–turned–frontline protestor, Taryn Flaherty is part of this history: the next generation fighting to save Chinatown.