Transit Ethnography

From Mad About the Mural .

Due date: September 17 on Medium by midnight (link in your reading notes)

Deliverables: Create a essay on the platform Medium. It should include some narrative, some raw field notes, a few conclusions (750-1,000 words total) and at least 10 photographs.


An important outcome of this course is to gain an understanding of how digital media is changing civic engagement in an urban context. Part of that understanding depends on an understanding of how the urban context itself is changing. An important part of this course is to learn how to study what’s happening with a culture systematically – to make sense of language, actions and setting. This is called ethnography.

Here are the three objectives of this assignment:

• To gain some understanding of the city as an organism that is always changing
• To practice some ethnographic observation skills
• To master the use of public transit (a key life skill)

Time required

This whole thing should take you about 2 hours. That depends a lot on the day you do it. There are fewer trains and buses on Saturdays and even fewer on Sundays, so it will take longer. If possible, try to do it during the week.

What you need to do:

Original illustration by Mike Jackson, Indy Hall Basic Member. From Philly.

• Board the No. 52 bus heading south that leaves from in front of Hagan arena on 54th Street. Get a selfie on the bus.
• Take the bus through the neighborhoods of northern West Philly to 52nd and Market and exit the bus. What do you see? Most people on the bus will be exiting there.
• Proceed south on 52nd to Brown Sugar (an awesome Caribbean bakery). Take some photos and make some observations on the way. Grab something to eat of you like. Get a selfie inside or outside.
• Go back north on 52nd and board the eastbound El (short for “elevated train” – the Market-Frankford Line) at 52nd Street and Market. If you got a transfer, hand it to the person in the booth.
• Observe the neighborhoods and people on the train and down below as you travel along Market Street. You will see some murals on building walls on both sides of the tracks. This is the Love Letter mural. Take a photo or write down what one of the murals says.
• Get off the El at 2nd Street and walk back Market Street to 3rd Street. Head north on 3rd Street. Stop at Indy Hall. Take a photo outside. Proceed north on 3rd Street to DevNuts outside. This is a fairly long walk. Make some observations along the way, write them down and photograph them.
• Go back to Market Street and get back on the Market-Frankford Line (at 2nd or 5th) and head back thew way you came. Get off at 52nd St. and catch the 52 bus back to St. Joe’s.

Field notes

Field notes are the raw observations that we use to help make sense of an environment and culture. So you should write down a lot of things – even if they don’t really seem to matter at the time. Obviously there will be visual observations – who is getting on and off the bus or subway; what do the different stations look like; when you’re elevated, what does the street below look like; if your on the bus, what do the different neighborhoods look like (abandoned buildings, beautiful condos) – but also auditory observations (snippets of conversation, for example) or even smells.

Riding public transit

• Paying. You have a couple of options. You can buy tokes at the bookstore or at the check cashing place near Larry’s. You drop the token into the box as you board. You will need a transfer too (unless you want to use another token to get on the train). To get that you put a dollar into the bill thing and the driver will give you a paper transfer. You can also pay with cash. It costs $2.25 plus $1 for a transfer. That will get you all the way to 2nd Street.

• Schedule are available here. There are also a couple of decent apps with schedules etc.