How to Navigate

Welcome to our site, a profile of the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia.  A good place to begin are our “About this Site,” “Introduction to Kensington,” and “Demographics,” pages.  For a more in-depth look at certain aspects of Kensington (its economy, civic infrastructure, and education), click “Older posts” at the bottom of the screen.  We hope you enjoy.

–Lindsey Lansky, Ashley Torres, Ben Watkins, and Alison Varney

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Housing

Types of Homes

If Philadelphia is a city of row houses, the Kensington neighborhood certainly follows suit. Row houses outnumber all other types of housing in Philadelphia, mainly for their space- and cost-efficiencies. This was especially crucial in a time when the city experienced rapid industrial growth. While the benefits of row house construction and living have had their impact on the city, it is also true that as certain neighborhoods age, the maintenance of row houses is crucial. Abandonment and neglect lead to loss of value, affecting not just the neighborhood landscape but also adjoining units.

In 2003, the City of Philadelphia commissioned a Comprehensive Preservation Assessment wherein three distinct eras of growth were identified. Each era was known for a distinctive style of row house, and each style could be attributed to the city’s diverse neighborhoods, both old and new.

The Kensington area can be distinguished its colonial and early 19th century row houses. The most modest of these (the Trinity, Bandbox, Father Son & Holy Ghost) could be between 400-600 sq. ft., featuring one entry way, a winder staircase, and no running water. These were typically found mid-block with no street front. Larger variations (from 1,000-1,800 sq. ft.) would feature three stories plus a basement level, a gable roof, fireplaces, and a rear yard. These were known as the Double Trinity and London House. The most extravagant floor plans would include as many as four stories, but would tend to be narrower and boast a deeper extension. These, known as Federal or George Town Houses, could be anywhere from 3,000-7,000 sq. ft.

As we examine the differences in the evolution of the Kingstown area compared to the Fishtown/Olde Richmond area, it is important to understand how both neighborhoods had the same origins in domestic construction. While they surely fit in with the backdrop of the city as a whole, they shared a distinctive style of the traditional Philadelphia row how. As time progressed, the neighborhoods emerged with distinctive home values, home ownership patterns, home types that would imply an ever-divergent housing landscape that can be observed even as recently as the last decade.

Housing Characteristics

The table below provides data comparing the basic housing statistics between zip codes 19125 and 19134 in 2000. Based on the data, the housing in the New Kensington area is generally older than the homes found in the Fishtown/Olde Richmond area. About 90% of the Kensington homes were built before 1960 compared to just 55% of the Fishtown/Olde Richmond homes. There was more variety in the types of homes found in 19125, as nearly 76% of the homes were either single-unit detached or attached dwellings. In the 19134 zip code, over two-thirds of the homes were attached. In both neighborhoods, residents at that time had moved in between 1981 and 2000, each at a rate of over 70%.

Area Code

19125

19134

includes Fishtown

includes Kensington

Single-family owner-occupied units

5,539

12,634

Median value

$43,500

$36,000

Median Mortgage

$1,010

$563

Owner Costs Burden

20.80%

29.40%

Median Rent

$531

$506

Renter Costs Burden

35.50%

53.70%

Move-in pre-1980

29.00%

25.60%

Move-in 1981-2000

71.00%

74.40%

Built pre-1960

54.60%

89.50%

Built 1961-1990

35.00%

9.50%

1-unit, detached

55.90%

7.90%

1-unit, attached

17.90%

82.00%

Utility Gas

51.30%

85.40%

Electricity

16.50%

3.50%

Fuel, oil, kerosene, etc.

25.50%

9.70%

Data Set: Census 2000 Summary File 3 (sf 3) – Sample Data, access via Census.gov

The median value of the homes in 19125 was higher by $7,500. However, compared to Kensington proper, the Fishtown/Olde Richmond rates of single-family owner-occupancy were over half and the median mortgage was nearly double. Median rents are somewhat comparable, falling within $25 range of one another. What is interesting to note between owners and renters of both zip codes is the difference in the burden of costs of living. Generally speaking, any household paying more than 30% of its income for living expenses is considered burdened. In both mortgage and renting situations, the Kensington residents of 19134 were more burdened than their Fishtown/Olde Richmond counterparts (80% compared to 65%).

Fishtown/Olde Richmond

Kensington

Median owner-occupied home value, 2005-2009

$167,800

$66,925

Single-family, detached, 2005-2009

9.24%

6.28%

Single-family, attached, 2005-2009

81.89%

80.57%

Median amount all loans, 2009

$159,500

$73,125

Median loans to whites, 2009

$169,250

$69,500

Median loans to African Americans, 2009

N/A

$71,100

Median loans to Hispanics, 2009

N/A

$65,750

Households that own a home, 2010

62.25%

47.12%

Homeowners cost-burdened, 2005-2009

29.82%

41.22%

Households that rent a home, 2010

37.75%

52.87%

Renters cost-burdened, 2005-2009

38.71%

61.57%

Households in subsidized housing, 2008

1.95%

3.43%

Household move-ins 2000 – present, 2005-2009

51.97%

52.63%

Vacant residential units, 2010

3.96%

6.85%

Data Set: Policy Map, access via UPenn Libraries

Data from 2009 and 2010 provide a very different story from the 2000 Census findings. The most obvious difference between the neighboring areas is that of the median values of the homes. The Fishtown/Olde Richmond neighborhood’s median home values more than double that of their Kensington counterparts. The former area also boasts a higher percentage of home owners and a lower percentage of renters compared to Kensington. The difference in percentage is almost exactly inversed for each category. Similar to 2000, both home owners and renters in the Fishtown/Olde Richmond neighborhood are significantly less burdened in costs of living expenses. In Kensington, more than 40% of home owners are cost-burdened, and that proportion jumps to nearly two-thirds of all Kensington renters.  Kensington has almost double the percentage of renters living in subsidized housing, as well.

Another finding concerns the types of available housing in each neighborhood, particularly in Fishtown/Olde Richmond. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of single-family homes that are either attached or detached increased from 76% to 91%. This suggests a considerable degree of development or redevelopment in the time that lapsed. Other types of housing, including multi-family units, may have decreased to make way for more detached home and row house construction, more likely the latter. This can be concluded by looking at the dramatic decrease in percentage of detached homes in this time in conjunction with the increase of attached homes. In Kensington proper, the percentages of single-family detached and attached dwellings has remained static over the decade.

In both neighborhoods, the decade since 2000 has seen tremendous household turnover. Fishtown/Olde Richmond and Kensington, alike, have experience a move-in rate of just over 50% since 2000. Vacancies are also important to note. Residential vacancies hover at around 4% for the Fishtown region, while they inch closer to 7% in the Kensington area.

In considering these most recent years, it is necessary to recall the impact of the sub-prime mortgage lending crisis that impacted our economy and households across the nation in 2008. It is helpful to understand where Philadelphia, and Kensington, fit into that larger framework.

Subprime Lending & Foreclosures

Foreclosed properties and their links to the collapse of the subprime lending market have been recurring issues in the recovery of local housing market and economic recovery overall. Philadelphia’s residents were no exception when it came to resisting the allure of subprime loan packages that catered to low-income, low-credit rating borrowers with higher, often adjustable, interest rates. Upon the system’s collapse, Philadelphia has also been no exception.

While Philadelphia, on average, falls barely within the top half of metropolitan areas in its foreclosure percentage (4.9% of all properties), it has a much higher average of subprime foreclosures (21.5% of all foreclosures) than others.

Based on estimates prepared by the Urban Institute and Local Initiatives Support Corporation, an analysis of the level of foreclosure risk based on the vacancy levels and rates of subprime mortgages in communities has been developed. While the map below gives the risk level for the greater Philadelphia/New Jersey region, it is possible to focus in on both Philadelphia and the Kensington area. Central Philadelphia, in general, has risk ranging from moderate-high to highest. A magnified look at the Kensington neighborhood shows that, as of the 4th quarter of 2010, the risk is at the highest level.

A second map shows the first indicator of foreclosure risk when combined with market strength. The combination of these two indicators provides an idea how a particular region may be able to sustain or even rebound in the case of overwhelming foreclosure rates. Again, Philadelphia is shown to be in a precarious position, as the majority of its neighborhoods are high risk with weak to moderate markets. Kensington is again shown to be on the lowest extreme of the scale.

While this information provides a basis of comparison for the greater Philadelphia metro region, it also highlights the vulnerability of a largely low-income neighborhood such Kensington. It suggests that Kensington may be slower to recover from the difficulties arousing out of the home credit market. Also, the only way to strengthen the market and decrease foreclosure risk may depend on the availability and eligibility of residents for prime rate mortgages.

Works Cited

“Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual.” National Trust for Historic Preservation, Office of Housing & Community Development. Philadelphia City Planning Commission. 2008. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

“Policy Brief: Foreclosure Risk and the Philadelphia Region: The Continuing Saga.” Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project. 2010. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

“Report: Subprime Lending in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Region.” Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project. 2008. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

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Education Options and Quality

Education Options – Public Schools
In the Kensington neighborhood, which we have established to be census tracks 143, 158, 159, 160, 161, 178, 179, 187, 188, there are several education options.  For public schools there are 32 that are currently in operation. They comprise of 9 high schools, 5 middle schools, 7 kindergarten through eighth grade schools and 11 elementary schools.  Combined these public schools serve 22,616 students, of which 43% are Hispanic, 37% are Black, 14% are White, and 2% are Asian.

Meaures and Results of Public Education Quality
Education quality is a very important component in measuring quality of life for any community. The ways to measure education quality varies depending on what a parent or student values, be that what goes into a wholesome educational experience or performance results on tests. Both are important, however for public schools especially, measuring wholesome experience is a very hard thing to do in a standardized way and isn’t as important or established as measuring performance results on certain tests like the state administered tests and the SATs. Graduation rates, drop-out rates and the percentage of seniors who are college bound are also measures I used to look into the quality of education available, as well as the percentage to students who are eligible for free lunches and reduced priced lunches, daycare accessibility and crime in schools.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has an academic achievement report system called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for all public schools. The AYP adheres to the No Child Left Behind Act which requires that groups of children reach proficiency in Reading and Math.  They measure three goals.  First, elementary, kindergarten through eighth grade and middle schools have attendance rates at 90%, and that high schools have a graduation rate of 85% or higher. Second, that 67% of the tested students within a school must achieve a proficient score or higher on the mathematics assessment and 72% of the tested students must achieve a proficient score or higher on the reading assessments.  Lastly, the goal is that 95% of the students within every school must take the tests.  For a school to meet AYP, all three measures must be met.  As it seems like a reasonable measure and expectation of the quality of education, achievement of the schools within our neighborhood seems to be struggling.

For 2011, in the whole neighborhood 19 schools did not reach the AYP goals, 10 did, and 3 schools had no data available.  For 2010, in the whole neighborhood 14 schools did not reach AYP goals, 15 did, and 3 schools again had no data available.

Separating out the data, for 2011 the 9 schools within Fishtown and Old Richmond (census tracts 143, 158, 159, 160), we found that more schools reached the goals than did not, with 5 achieving AYP measures and 4 not achieving AYP meaures.  However, for 2010 it was reversed with 4 schools achieving AYP measures and 5 schools not achieving the measures.

The 23 schools within Kensington and East Kensington area (census tracks 161, 179, 178, 188) for the 2011 year we find that only 5 schools achieved AYP goals, with 15 schools failing to achieve AYP goals, and 3 schools had no data available.  For 2010 the results looked better comparatively, with 11 schools achieving AYP goals, 9 schools not achieving AYP goals, and 3 with no results.

Before I go into what can be derived from this data, I will show you more data by taking a closer look at the high schools specifically and their SAT scores, rates of graduation, percentage of students who are college bound, and drop out rates.

In the whole neighborhood for 2010, SAT scores were horrendous with averages for all 9 high schools in the 350 range with the highest score possible being 800 for the 3 components of the test in reading, writing and mathematics. In the Fishtown and Olde Richmond area there are 5 high schools, for 2011 there was a 71% graduation rate, in 2010 there was only 50%.  For Kensington and East Kensington there are 4 high schools, for 2011 their graduation rate was 81% and for 2010 it was 58%. Kensington and East Kensington did much better comparatively to Fishtown and Old Richmond, a more gentrified neighborhood.  For 2010 the high schools in Fishtown and Old Richmond had an average of a 14% of students who were college bound, for Kensington and East Kensington there was a 27% of students who were college bound.

I couldn’t find the drop out rates of seniors in the specific high schools of our neighborhood, however the average drop out rates of seniors in the Philadelphia school district in general has fluctuated between 9 and 7 percent of the total students since 2005.  This is a concerning rate and has been an issue that craves attention, as youth organizations such as Youth’s United For Change which is made up of young people who are advocating for improvement in Philadelphia schools, have identified this issue as serious. They issued a report earlier this year on this topic called “Pushed Out: Youth Voices on the Drop Out Crisis in Philadelphia.” They identified factors that contribute to this issue, such as boredom and engagement, teaching and classroom, high discipline, out of school issues and alternative education options, all of which seem applicable to our neighborhood of Kensington.

Another measurement in effort to better understand the educational quality of public schools is student eligibility for lunch assistance or reduced priced lunches. This reflects the extent to which schools are offering support to low-income students outside of the classroom.  The number of students within the Kensington neighborhood whose family income is within 130 percent of the poverty line are therefore eligible for free lunches or reduced priced lunches is over 83 percent of the total students.  For the Fishtown and Olde Richmond areas of the neighborhood the percentage is 96, and for the Kensington and East Kensington areas of the neighborhood the percentage is 80.

We felt as though daycare accessibility was also a measure that is important to education quality as it signifies the extent to which a community supplies these services to working mothers of soon-to-be students in the area.  There are 7 active child care facilities within the Fishtown and Olde Richmond area, and 6 listings for the Kensington and East Kensington areas.  2 out of the total of 13 advertise as offering subsidized services to qualifying mothers. There are also database websites that show profiles of available nannies in the area, along with their rates and their reference information. There were many nannies available in the Kensington neighborhood, and rates were between $10 to $65 dollars per hour.

Crime is something else that can be assessed as a measurement to educational quality in that every parent wants their children to be safe and unharmed while attending school.  In a report by the Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project (MPIP), for the 2007 to 2008 school year there were more than 20 reports of violent incidents for every 1,000 students in the Philadelphia School District.  These violent incidents can range from bullying, threats and intimidation to fights and assaults on either faculty or staff.  Also for that school year in Philadelphia, they reported that there are more than 2 reports for every 1,000 students of incidents involving weapons that are either knives, guns or explosives.

Education Options – Private Schools
For private schools there are 12 that are currently in operation in the Kensington neighborhood, 4 of which are in the Fishtown and Olde Richmond area and 8 of which are in the Kensington and East Kensington areas.  They are mainly Roman Catholic in affiliation except for one Baptist school and one Friends school, and all of the private schools are not in association with any organization. With a little more than modest income requiring, there are private schools that are available for families that do not want to send their children to public schools with poor performance ratings.  The private schools comprise of 10 kindergarten through eighth grade schools and 2 high schools serving a total of 3,262 students, of which 52% are White, 36% are Hispanic, 11% are Black, 6% are Asian.  Unfortunately, I was unable to find any assessment of these private school’s educational quality. However, according to a report by the Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project based on data from the 2000 census report, they found that over a fifth of school-aged students are attending private schools in the Philadelphia area, which is high in comparison to other metropolitan areas that are similar to Philadelphia, like Baltimore at 16 percent or Boston at 13 percent of school aged students.  They also found according to a Temple University survey that in 2004 over 50 percent of people living in condensed urban areas would like to send their children to a private school. The appeal for sending one’s child to private school is therefore relatively high in the Philadelphia region, and it seems reasonable to argue that that is because of the correlation with the poor performance levels of the Philadelphia city public school district.

Discussion of Data Results for Public School
What can be derived from the AYP data is that even though Fishtown and Olde Richmond has more influence from gentrification, it doesn’t mean that influence will carry over into school performance necessarily, at least not initially.  But to even think that gentrification would have an influence on education, let alone the education system within a city, at least for this component of life, is arguably far-fetched. Even within a two year period when the data for the AYP was collected, there was great fluctuation in the measured results for the two full school years within each area of the Kensington neighborhood as a whole. There are other, more gentrified areas of the city and the public schools in that area also fluctuate greatly with performance results of the AYP, as the district average for graduation rate is at 79%. A huge factor that goes into this fluctuation is the funding behind the schools, which for Philadelphia has been low compared to other school districts in the surrounding areas.

SAT scores for the previous year within our neighborhood were in the 350 range for each component, which is no better or worse than other neighborhoods within the Philadelphia city school district.  In fact, since 1999, which is the earliest I could find data on SAT scores within Philadelphia, to the present day Philadelphia has been among the worst SAT scoring school districts in the region. As SAT scores are used for college applications to gauge a students education level and readiness for a higher education, SAT scores being as low as they are for our neighborhood and Philadelphia in general is not a good sign.

Looking into the rates of graduation and rates of students that are college-bound is another indicator of quality of education, and as explained before, for our neighborhood the Fishtown and Olde Richmond area had lower graduation rates than Kensington and East Kensington together, which is puzzling because Fishtown and Olde Richmond is much more gentrified.  We see this again with students who are college bound in Fishtown and Olde Richmond being only an average 14% of students going to college and students in the Kensington and East Kensington an average of 27% going to college, both for the 2010 year.  And once more with the percentage of students in the Kensington and East Kensington areas as having lower (but still significantly high) percentages of students who are eligible for free or reduced priced lunches than in the Fishtown and Olde Richmond areas, which is 96% versus 80%.  What can be derived from these facts, coupled with the SAT scores is that despite these findings being counterintuitive to our argument that Fishtown and Olde Richmond are more affluent than the Kensington and East Kensington areas of the neighborhood, this affluence and the positive effects of gentrification can not be seen in the quality of schools that are available.  This counterintuitive finding is concerning as quality education should be available to everyone as it can enables students to succeed in life, but if the schools are failing to offer a quality education, as with the schools within the Kensington neighborhood, then it is perpetuating an impoverished lifestyle in an impoverished neighborhood.  Even with the influence of gentrification and affluence in parts of the neighborhood, this influence has yet to be reflected in anyway in school performance and measures of quality.

The crime measurement in Philadelphia schools is among the highest in the surrounding areas, especially in neighborhoods along the Delaware River, which loosely applies to Kensington.  The MPIP report on crime in Philadelphia schools points to trends on a national level which show that students who attend school in large urban districts with low household incomes are much more likely to be victims of violence than students who go to school in wealthier communities.  Because of the high crime rate in Philadelphia schools, school officials resort to installment of metal detectors, x-ray machines to scan student’s bags, security cameras and even random locker checks.  While these sorts of measures to insure safety in schools is important it simultaneously reminds students that there are reasons to be afraid within their own school.  In light of this, the reality of crime within Philadelphia schools is a serious hindrance in the effort to offer a quality educational experience for its students. It makes teachers and faculty members resort to higher discipline on students such as issuing more suspensions and detentions to be safe, but it actually hurts these student’s academic performance significantly and results in hindering students more than it does aiding in their education and safety.

In summary, the fact that over 83% of students within our neighborhood are eligible for free lunch, and accounting for the great fluctation of achieving or failing AYP measures, the consistent below average SAT scores, the graduation rate that fluctuates greatly and that is well below the state average of 91% and the very low percentage rate of college-bound students, the drop out rate, and the presence of violence in public schools tells us that the Kensington neighborhood is struggling to overcome its circumstances which are the limitations within a school district that has limited funding and is burdened by the expectations of performance measures such as AYP and the SATs, all of which is coupled with the burden of the high amount of crime and the negative effects on education that arise from this presence of violence.  Even though we believe that there are effects from gentrification for the Fishtown and Olde Richmond area within Kensington, those effects can’t be seen in education options and quality that are available because a school district is only as strong as its weakest school. These layered and dynamic problems in the Kensington neighborhood are reflections of the failings of the school district as a whole which will greatly effect the lives of the students who attend public schools now and into the future.

Works Cited

Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project, N.p., Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://mpip.temple.edu/&gt;.

National Center for Educational Statistics Common Core of Data. University of Pennsylvania. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/&gt;.

New Kensington Community Development Corporation. Business Directory and Neighborhood Resource Guide 2011. Philadelphia: Northern Liberty , 2011. Print.

Pennsylvania Department of Education, N.p., Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <www.education.state.pa.us>.

The Census Bureau, N.p., Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://2010.census.gov/2010census/>.

“Pushed Out: Youth Voices on the Droupout Crisis in Philadelphia.” Youths United For Change. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://youthunitedforchange.com&gt;.

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The Local Economy

Overview:

During the early 20th century, the greater Kensington area contained a booming manufacturing industry.  Beginning in the 1950s, however, deindustrialization swept through Philadelphia.  Warehouses began to close, and many  Kensingtonians lost their jobs.  According to the Philadelphia Daily News, between 1979 and 1983, almost thirty years after deindustrialization roughly began, Philadelphia lost 100,000 jobs, many of which were in the Kensington neighborhood (Eisberg).

Fast forward to today.  Fishtown and Olde Richmond, contain vibrant local economies with a mix of large employers and small local businesses.  People in these communities work in jobs with upward mobility and are generally doing fairly well for themselves.  The picture in Kensington and East Kensington, however, is much bleaker.  Unemployment is high. People are working in jobs with little to no upward mobility and low salaries.  Outsiders, however, seem to be doing well in Kensington through predatory businesses like  pawn shops and check cashing stores.  The only local economy in these neighborhoods that seems to be doing well is the underground drug economy.

Employment and Unemployment Rates:

Fishtown/Olde Richmond:

Statistics Census Tract 143, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 158, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 159, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 160, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania TOTAL (All Selected Census Tracts)
SE:T37. Employment/Unemployment Status For Civilian Population In
Labor Force 16 Years And Over
Civilian Population In Labor Force 16 Years And Over:
861 3,158 954 4,179 9,152
Employed
791 91.9% 2,900 91.8% 786 82.4% 3,649 87.3% 8,126 88.8%
Unemployed
70 8.1% 258 8.2% 168 17.6% 530 12.7% 1,026 11.2%

Kensington/East Kensington:

Statistics Census Tract 161, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 178, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 179, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 187, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 188, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania
SE:T37. Employment/Unemployment Status For Civilian Population In
Labor Force 16 Years And Over
Civilian Population In Labor Force 16 Years And Over:
2,247 2,241 2,670 616 2,923
Employed
1,879 83.6% 1,839 82.1% 2,127 79.7% 549 89.1% 2,385 81.6%
Unemployed
368 16.4% 402 17.9% 543 20.3% 67 10.9% 538 18.4%


National/Philadelphia County

Statistics United States Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania
SE:T37. Employment/Unemployment Status For Civilian Population In
Labor Force 16 Years And Over
Civilian Population In Labor Force 16 Years And Over:
152,273,029 710,432
Employed
141,303,145 92.8% 624,546 87.9%
Unemployed
10,969,884 7.2% 85,886 12.1%

(This data is from the 2005-2009 American Community Survey.  Data was found using the Social Explorer database with access provided by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries).

The  average unemployment percentage in the Kensington/East Kensington section is around 18.4%, more than double the national percentage and over 5% above the unemployment rates of both Philadelphia County and the Fishtown/Olde Richmond sections of Kensington.

Photo taken by Alison Varney, December 12, 2011

Banks:

In both the well-developed and less developed parts of Kensington, there are larger banks, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, and smaller local banks like Third Federal Bank.  All citizens in Kensington have physical access to a bank.   One cannot argue, therefore, that a reason why Fishtown and Olde Richmond citizens are generally wealthier than those in Kensington and East Kensington is because citizens in Kensington and East Kensington do not have easy access to banks.

In Kensington and East Kensington, however, there seems to be another type of financial institution that citizens use more often than traditional banks: fringe banking services like check cashing, payday loan stores, and pawn shops.  Kensington Avenue is lined with these institutions, so most of them are probably doing fairly successfully (see picture above).  There are essentially no fringe banking services in Fishtown and Olde Richmond.

Means of Transportation to Work, and What that Means:

Fishtown/Olde Richmond:

Statistics Census Tract 143, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 158, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 159, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 160, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania TOTAL (All Selected Census Tracts)
SE:T128. Means Of Transportation To Work For Workers 16 Years And Over
Workers 16 Years and over:
760 2,853 766 3,297 7,676
Car, truck, or van
443 58.3% 1,663 58.3% 424 55.4% 1,901 57.7% 4,431 57.7%
Public transportation (Includes Taxicab)
261 34.3% 847 29.7% 198 25.9% 960 29.1% 2,266 29.5%
Motorcycle
0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0%
Bicycle
0 0% 35 1.2% 19 2.5% 80 2.4% 134 1.8%
Walked
44 5.8% 169 5.9% 94 12.3% 237 7.2% 544 7.1%
Other means
0 0% 18 0.6% 0 0% 24 0.7% 42 0.6%
Worked at home
12 1.6% 121 4.2% 31 4.1% 95 2.9% 259 3.4%
SE:T129. Travel Time To Work For Workers 16 Years And Over
Workers 16 Years and over:
760 2,853 766 3,297 7,676
Did not work at home:
748 98.4% 2,732 95.8% 735 96.0% 3,202 97.1% 7,417 96.6%
Less than 10 minutes
82 10.8% 200 7.0% 135 17.6% 344 10.4% 761 9.9%
10 to 19 minutes
115 15.1% 714 25.0% 103 13.5% 870 26.4% 1,802 23.5%
20 to 29 minutes
256 33.7% 630 22.1% 135 17.6% 532 16.1% 1,553 20.2%
30 to 39 minutes
153 20.1% 497 17.4% 160 20.9% 832 25.2% 1,642 21.4%
40 to 59 minutes
74 9.7% 559 19.6% 144 18.8% 329 10.0% 1,106 14.4%
60 to 89 minutes
68 9.0% 107 3.8% 24 3.1% 142 4.3% 341 4.4%
90 or More minutes
0 0% 25 0.9% 34 4.4% 153 4.6% 212 2.8%
Worked at home
12 1.6% 121 4.2% 31 4.1% 95 2.9% 259 3.4%

Kensington/East Kensington:

Statistics Census Tract 161, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 178, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 179, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 187, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 188, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania TOTAL (All Selected Census Tracts)
SE:T128. Means Of Transportation To Work For Workers 16 Years And Over
Workers 16 Years and over:
1,833 1,797 2,101 534 2,301 8,566
Car, truck, or van
820 44.7% 1,185 65.9% 1,043 49.6% 424 79.4% 1,074 46.7% 4,546 53.1%
Public transportation (Includes Taxicab)
782 42.7% 466 25.9% 773 36.8% 48 9.0% 846 36.8% 2,915 34.0%
Motorcycle
0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0%
Bicycle
88 4.8% 0 0% 7 0.3% 12 2.3% 0 0% 107 1.3%
Walked
135 7.4% 56 3.1% 239 11.4% 38 7.1% 365 15.9% 833 9.7%
Other means
0 0% 51 2.8% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 51 0.6%
Worked at home
8 0.4% 39 2.2% 39 1.9% 12 2.3% 16 0.7% 114 1.3%
SE:T129. Travel Time To Work For Workers 16 Years And Over
Workers 16 Years and over:
1,833 1,797 2,101 534 2,301 8,566
Did not work at home:
1,825 99.6% 1,758 97.8% 2,062 98.1% 522 97.8% 2,285 99.3% 8,452 98.7%
Less than 10 minutes
111 6.1% 97 5.4% 105 5.0% 0 0% 185 8.0% 498 5.8%
10 to 19 minutes
413 22.5% 481 26.8% 388 18.5% 214 40.1% 503 21.9% 1,999 23.3%
20 to 29 minutes
309 16.9% 430 23.9% 547 26.0% 132 24.7% 386 16.8% 1,804 21.1%
30 to 39 minutes
459 25.0% 351 19.5% 611 29.1% 120 22.5% 530 23.0% 2,071 24.2%
40 to 59 minutes
162 8.8% 127 7.1% 201 9.6% 56 10.5% 186 8.1% 732 8.6%
60 to 89 minutes
208 11.4% 177 9.9% 210 10.0% 0 0% 374 16.3% 969 11.3%
90 or More minutes
163 8.9% 95 5.3% 0 0% 0 0% 121 5.3% 379 4.4%
Worked at home
8 0.4% 39 2.2% 39 1.9% 12 2.3% 16 0.7% 114 1.3%

(This data is from the 2005-2009 American Communities Survey found using the Social Explorer database.  Access to database was from the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.)

Surprisingly, citizens in the Kensington/East Kensington sections of Kensington use similar transportation methods and have similar travel times in order to get to work than do citizens in Fishtown and Olde Richmond.  Over half of the residents in all sections of the greater Kensington area use cars, trucks, or vans to get to work.  Because the Census only offers data about how people use transportation to get to work and not people’s ownership of cars in general, one cannot purport that the reason why unemployment is so high in Kensington and East Kensington is because residents do not have access to their own transportation.

One interesting point about this data, however, is that about a third of the population use public transportation of some sort to get to work.  Kensington and Fishtown’s closeness to the Market-Frankford Line and other public transportation is therefore valuable to many working Kensington citizens (More info about this in the “Relationship to Philadelphia” section of this website.)

What Kind of Jobs Do People Have?

Fishtown/Olde Richmond

Statistics Census Tract 143, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 158, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 159, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 160, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania TOTAL (All Selected Census Tracts)
SE:T140. Occupation For Employed Civilian Population 16 Years And Over
Employed Civilian Population 16 Years And Over:
791 2,900 786 3,649 8,126
Management, professional, and related occupations
326 41.2% 1,146 39.5% 315 40.1% 994 27.2% 2,781 34.2%
Service occupations
86 10.9% 425 14.7% 157 20.0% 845 23.2% 1,513 18.6%
Sales and office occupations:
222 28.1% 921 31.8% 110 14.0% 1,051 28.8% 2,304 28.4%
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations
0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0%
Construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations
72 9.1% 135 4.7% 88 11.2% 258 7.1% 553 6.8%
Production, transportation, and material moving occupations:
85 10.8% 273 9.4% 116 14.8% 501 13.7% 975 12.0%
Production occupations
15 1.9% 77 2.7% 37 4.7% 424 11.6% 553 6.8%
Transportation and material moving occupations:
70 8.9% 196 6.8% 79 10.1% 77 2.1% 422 5.2%

Kensington/East Kensington

SE:T140. Occupation For Employed Civilian Population 16 Years And Over
Employed Civilian Population 16 Years And Over:
Census Tract 161 1,879 Census Tract 1781,839 Census Tract 1792,127 Census Tract 187549 Census Tract 1882,385 Census Tract Average8,779  Average Percentage
Management, professional, and related occupations
377 20.1% 175 9.5% 413 19.4% 96 17.5% 342 14.3% 1,403 16.0%
Service occupations
303 16.1% 680 37.0% 448 21.1% 84 15.3% 761 31.9% 2,276 25.9%
Sales and office occupations:
474 25.2% 465 25.3% 646 30.4% 158 28.8% 560 23.5% 2,303 26.2%
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations
0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0%
Construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations
153 8.1% 161 8.8% 218 10.3% 46 8.4% 173 7.3% 751 8.6%
Production, transportation, and material moving occupations:
572 30.4% 358 19.5% 402 18.9% 165 30.1% 549 23.0% 2,046 23.3%
Production occupations
339 18.0% 223 12.1% 211 9.9% 71 12.9% 379 15.9% 1,223 13.9%
Transportation and material moving occupations:
233 12.4% 135 7.3% 191 9.0% 94 17.1% 170 7.1% 823 9.4%

(This data is from the 2005-2009 American Community Survey through the Social Explorer database.  Access to the database granted by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.)

Analysis:

It is often difficult to analyze Census data about occupations because of the broad range of occupations that each category entails.  There are a few points, however, that can be made after comparing and contrasting the occupations throughout the different sections of Kensington.

1.  More citizens living in Fishtown and East Richmond part of Kensington are employed in management and professional occupations (34.2% vs. 16%). The management and professional occupations category includes a variety of subcategories including:

  • Management, Business, and Financial Occupations (ranging from CEOs and financial analysts to food service managers)
  •  Computer, engineering, and science occupations
  •  Education, legal, community service, arts, and media occupations.
  • Healthcare practitioners and technical occupations

The management and professional occupations in general entail the highest paying jobs and jobs in fields with high chances of upward mobility.  These are the jobs held most typically by middle class and upper class citizens.  Many residents in Fishtown and Olde Richmond therefore are employed in occupations with high salaries or a good chance of upward mobility.

2. Citizens in the Kensington/East Kensington section of Kensington are much more likely to be occupied in the Production, Transportation, and Moving Occupations.  These jobs are predominantly warehouse jobs in which workers perform manual labor.  These jobs are unskilled and typically have little to no opportunity for upwards mobility.

Since deindustrialization began in the 1950s, the citizens of Fishtown and Olde Richmond have been able to find jobs in other sectors including management, service, and sales occupations.  In Kensington and East Kensington, however, many people still work in the manufacturing industries, even after those industries have lost many jobs and shrunk in size.  Because of this phenomenon among others, the unemployment rate in Kensington and East Kensington is high.

Median Salary:

Comparing the median salary in Kensington/East Kensington ($21,481) vs. that in Fishtown/Olde Richmond (45,462) confirms that citizens in Fishtown and Olde Richmond are generally employed in much higher paying occupations than are citizens in Kensington and East Kensington.

The Kensington and Allegheny Business Corridor:

Kensington/East Kensington

Taken by Alison Varney, December 12, 2011
The Kensington-Allegheny Festival, From Ruvilla.com

Historically, the blocks of Kensington immediately surrounding the intersection between Kensington Avenue and Allegheny Avenue have been the retail center for the Kensington neighborhood; this area is affectionately known as K&A.  In the past, K&A was known as a thriving business corridor for the entire Kensington area.  Presently, however,  K&A does not contain a very diverse range of businesses.  Most businesses are clothing stores,take-out restaurants, small diners, barber shops, pawn shops, and check cashing centers.    Most of the clothing stores, pawn shops, and check cashing centers are not local Kensington businesses; only a few “mom-and-pop” diners and pawn shops are owned by local Kensington citizens.

Additionally, many of the  storefronts in the K&A corridor are abandoned.  This phenomenon, however, is fairly easy to explain.  Because most people in Kensington do not have much money, most retail businesses in the K&A are not thriving.  People in the surrounding neighborhoods do not have enough money to go out to eat, much less enough to visit an art gallery.  The businesses that do prosper, like pawn shops and discount clothing boutiques, thrive because their business models are designed specifically to serve low income citizens and, in the case of pawn shops and check cashing stores, take advantage of poor citizens’ economic instability.

Fishtown and Olde Richmond’s Local Economy: Spread out, Diverse, and Strong

Fishtown and Olde Richmond do not have central commercial corridors like the K&A corridor.  Fishtown and Olde Richmond instead have a variety of businesses spread out throughout the community.  Fishtown and Olde Richmond’s local economies are extremely economically diverse and presently propserous.  Fishtown, for example, has a burgeoning arts and music scene.  The New Kensington Community Development Corporation’s 2011 business guide lists over fifty art galleries and five music venues in the Fishtown and Olde Richmond areas alone.  Fishtown has also recently seen growth in the restaurant industry.  Renowned Philadelphia restauranteur Steven Starr opened his newest venture, Frankford Hall, in Fishtown.  Fishtown and Olde Richmond’s economies are “on the rise,” and are attracting businesses to invest within those communities.

In 2010, SugarHouse Casino opened a casino in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.  SugarHouse’s choice to invest Fishtown shows that its owners believed that Fishtown was an economically viable location to grow a business.

One Root of Kensington’s Economic Problems: Education

As illustrated below, there is a significant disparity between the educational attainment of the average Kensington/East Kensington native compared to his counterpart in the Fishtown/Olde Richmond section of Kensington.  Around 40% of Kensington and East Kensington citizens aged 25 or older as of 2009 had not received a high school diploma, and only around 6% of citizens had received a bachelors’  or an advanced degree.  In Fishtown and Olde Richmond, over 25% of citizens ages 25 and older had received a bachelors’ or an advanced degree and over 80% had received a high school diploma.

Because of a lack of education, citizens in Kensington and East Kensington are unable to enter skilled jobs that would lead to higher salaries.  Citizens are instead trapped in low-paying paying jobs (when they can find work at all).  Additionally, many citizens do not have the educational knowledge necessary to successfully run a local business.  The local economy therefore has become dominated by many businesses, some traditional and others more predatory, with leaders capable of successfully running a business.  In Fishtown and Olde Richmond, citizens generally have the education necessary to both enter high-paying careers or to start their own successful local businesses.

Educational Attainment in Fishtown/Olde Richmond:

Statistics Census Tract 143, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 158, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 159, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 160, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania TOTAL (All Selected Census Tracts)
SE:T25. Educational Attainment For Population 25 Years And Over
Population 25 Years and over:
1,064 4,406 1,228 5,266 11,964
Less Than High School
132 12.4% 803 18.2% 301 24.5% 925 17.6% 2,161 18.1%
High School Graduate (includes equivalency)
302 28.4% 1,485 33.7% 439 35.8% 1,810 34.4% 4,036 33.7%
Some college
193 18.1% 709 16.1% 245 20.0% 1,426 27.1% 2,573 21.5%
Bachelor’s degree
331 31.1% 1,058 24.0% 204 16.6% 903 17.2% 2,496 20.9%
Master’s degree
73 6.9% 244 5.5% 39 3.2% 161 3.1% 517 4.3%
Professional school degree
17 1.6% 90 2.0% 0 0% 41 0.8% 148 1.2%
Doctorate degree
16 1.5% 17 0.4% 0 0% 0 0% 33 0.3%

Educational Attainment in Kensington/East Kensington:

Statistics Census Tract 161, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 178, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 179, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 187, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Census Tract 188, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania TOTAL (All Selected Census Tracts)
SE:T25. Educational Attainment For Population 25 Years And Over
Population 25 Years and over:
3,548 3,523 3,508 1,203 4,590 16,372
Less Than High School
1,349 38.0% 1,584 45.0% 1,289 36.7% 382 31.8% 1,803 39.3% 6,407 39.1%
High School Graduate (includes equivalency)
1,272 35.9% 1,420 40.3% 1,513 43.1% 507 42.1% 1,809 39.4% 6,521 39.8%
Some college
607 17.1% 361 10.3% 510 14.5% 209 17.4% 724 15.8% 2,411 14.7%
Bachelor’s degree
187 5.3% 105 3.0% 143 4.1% 105 8.7% 204 4.4% 744 4.5%
Master’s degree
100 2.8% 53 1.5% 13 0.4% 0 0% 50 1.1% 216 1.3%
Professional school degree
24 0.7% 0 0% 23 0.7% 0 0% 0 0% 47 0.3%
Doctorate degree
9 0.3% 0 0% 17 0.5% 0 0% 0 0% 26 0.2%

This data is from the 2005-2009 American Community Survey using the Social Explorer database.  Access was provided by the University of Pennsylvania Library.

Another Root: Crime

One reason why the Kensington and East Kensington areas have not attracted the same level of outside investment as have the Fishtown and Olde Richmond neighborhoods is because Kensington and East Kensington have higher levels of crime than do Fishtown and Olde Richmond.  For many businesses, investing in a crime-ridden area can be extremely risky because the company risks paying costs because of crimes like theft, vandalism, and arson.

Business Associations :

One contributor to the Fishtown area’s thriving local businesses is its business association, the Fishtown Area Business Association (FABA) for short.  FABA allows local business leaders to network and collaborate to try to expand Fishtown’s local economy.  Leaders from about fifty businesses ranging from local banks to restaurants to retail stores all belong to FABA.

The local nonprofit Impact Services (See “Nonprofits” for more details) also helps run  the Kensington and Allegheny Business Assocation, a business association that focuses on the commercial strip surrounding the intersection between Kensington and Allegheny Avenues.  KABA has a membership of over 75 members and has proven key to the success of local small businesses.  Representatives from multiple city departments such as the Philadelphia parking Authority, the Police, and the Licenses and Inspection Departments, come to KABA meetings to assist local business leaders with any areas that they need support in.  Even though KABA is a well-organized, professional organization, it has been unable to revitalize the K&A corridor to its former glory.

The Underground Economy:

Kensington and East Kensington have a thriving underground economy.  Although it is difficult to measure the amount of money produced in Kensington from drugs, it is certain that the drug trade is extremely active in Kensington and East Kensington.  Philadelphia Weekly named the intersection of Kensington Avenue and Somerset Street the number one drug corner in all of Philadelphia in 2011.

Declaring that the underground economy is decisively good or bad for Kensington is difficult.  On one hand, an underground economy creates negative externalities like increased violence. On the other hand, however, the underground economy provides many people with money necessary to survive.  If the underground economy were somehow eliminated, it would be difficult to argue that Kensington’s local economy, which already has a high level of unemployment, could support the numerous people currently employed by the underground economy.  Additionally, without income from the drug economy, many Kensingtonians who earn income from the drug economy would not be able to spend (at least as much) and thereby support other local businesses.  In other words, if the drug dealer down the street loses his job, he can no longer buy food at the local restaurant, get his hair cut at the local barber shop, or shop at the local clothing store.  On the other hand, someone could argue that eliminating the drug economy would reduce crime and lead to an overall higher quality of living, which would incentivize more businesses to enter Kensington and provide more jobs to sustain the local economy.

The success of the underground economy is largely attributable to educational issues in Kensington.  Because many citizens do not have the educational attainment necessary to enter upwardly mobile jobs that can provide considerable incomes, many citizens turn to the drug trade in hopes of making more money than they could by traditional means.

Summary:

Since deindustrialization, the Kensington/East Kensington sections of Kensington are much economically weaker than are the Fishtown/Olde Richmond areas.  The Kensington and East Kensington economies are extremely undiversified.  Additionally, the economies do not do much to benefit the citizens of Kensington and East Kensington, since many of the successful businesses are predatory financial schemes run by outsiders.   The unemployment rate in Kensington and East Kensington is extremely high, and the citizens who do work most often have low-paying jobs with few opportunities for advancement. The Fishtown and Olde Richmond neighborhoods, on the other hand, have diversified, strong economies.  In Fishtown and Olde Richmond, national chains certainly thrive.  Local businesses, however, also thrive and financially benefit citizens of Fishtown and Olde Richmond.  Fishtown and Olde Richmond has a low unemployment rate, and many citizens who do work are able to advance upwards and thereby achieve higher incomes.

Works Cited:
Eisberg, Bob. “Kensington/‌Richmond: A Difficult Rebirth after the Decline of Manufacturing, a Neighborhood Puts Its Faith in Its People.” Philadelphia Daily News 17 Dec. 1985: n. pag. Access World News. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.
Fishtown Area Business Association. N.p., 4 Oct. 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.
Frankford Hall. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.
“Kensington and Allegheny Business Association.” Impact Services Corporation. N.p., 2010. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.
New Kensington Community Development Corporation. Business Directory and Neighborhood Resource Guide. Philadelphia: Northern Liberty, 2011. Print.
SugarHouse Casino. SugarHouse HSP Gaming, L.P., 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.
Volk, Steve. “Top 10 Drug Corners: 2011 Edition.” Philadelphia Weekly. N.p., 24 Aug. 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

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Access to Food and Other Necessities

Food and accessibility to it is an important indicator of the quality of one’s life as well as convenience.  For this topic I looked into the different types of food stores, such as supermarkets, warehouse grocery stores, limited assortment supermarkets superettes, and farmers markets.  For other necessities I looked into conventional drug stores, natural health and wellness stores, home improvement stores and liquor stores for the reasons of having access to health supplies, repair materials for one’s home and availability of alcohol to each area of the neighborhood.

For clarification, by definition a supermarket is a full line self-service grocery store with annual sales volume of over 2 million.  A warehouse grocery store has limited service with focus on price appeal of products in their original shipping carton, as opposed to individually placed on shelves as with a conventional supermarket.  Limited assortment supermarket is a limited selection of items and a reduced variety of categories, usually in health and beauty, cleaning supplies and paper products, with accentuation on low prices.  A superette is essentially a mom and pop corner store, with very limited selection of food, usually just snacks, deli, canned and highly processed foods.  And a conventional drug store is a store in resemblance to chains such as Rite Aid or CVS.

For the Kensington neighborhood there are some disparities between the accessibility to food and other necessities between the Fishtown and Old Richmond areas and the Kensington and East Kensington areas of the neighborhood.

The Fishtown and Olde Richmond areas have 2 supermarkets, 1 warehouse grocery store, 1 limited assortment supermarket, 5 superettes, 2 farmers markets, 3 conventional drug stores, 13 natural health and wellness stores, 1 home improvement store and 3 liquor stores.

The Kensington and East Kensington areas have 4 supermarkets, 10 superettes, 0 farmers markets 3 conventional drug stores, 0 health and wellness stores, 3 home improvement stores, and 12 liquor stores.

To begin with, the Fishtown and Old Richmond areas of the Kensington neighborhood are comparatively more affluent because of gentrification, with greater access to a wider range of food and other necessities which is reflected in the number of farmers markets and natural health and wellness stores that are available in the area.

For the Kensington and East Kensington areas there are more supermarkets available than in the Fishtown and Olde Richmond areas. This may be because of the greater population density in the area. However, the supermarkets are not centrally located in the designated areas of Kensington and East Kensington, they are more located on the borderline with the neighborhood of Port Richmond.  Therefore it could also mean that it forces residents of the Kensington and East Kensington areas to shop more at the superettes or the corner stores in their area, as evident from the greater number of superettes in the area as compared to Fishtown and Olde Richmond.  There is also a much greater number of liquor stores available in the Kensington and East Kensington areas of the neighborhood, which may be because as city planning trends go there are usually more liquor stores supplied to an area that is impoverished than that is affluent.

In summary, access to food and other necessities is an important indicator of the quality of life as obtaining essentials to survival such as food is vital in order to live. The accessibility to food has disparities within the areas of the neighborhood of Kensington.  In the Fishtown and Olde Richmond areas there is a wider variety of food and other necessities as a result of the affluent population and its closer proximity to Center City.  In the Kensington and East Kensington areas of the neighborhood there are less varieties in the available food options, and the location of the supermarkets forces resident to use superettes more, which only has highly processed foods. This area has hardly benefited from gentrification in that there are no farmer’s markets or natural health and wellness stores in the area of Kensington and East Kensington.

Sources
Trade Dimensions Inc.
PolicyMap via UPenn
Yellow Pages


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Relationship with Greater Philadelphia

Because of its size and numerous diverse neighborhoods, the US Census divides Philadelphia into over 360 census tracts (factfind.census.gov, n.pag.). It’s no wonder that some neighborhoods are in better condition than others because the city government does not have enough resources to allocate and distribute evenly among all the communities. Unfortunately, some receive the short end of the bargain and one of these communities is Kensington.

There have been a couple of incidents in the past couple years that have specifically highlighted Philadelphia’s involvement in the community, to be exact, with the law. While Kensington has been referred to as a neighborhood in many popular movies and hit television shows, the name received lots of local and some national attention when the Philadelphia Weekly did a report on Philadelphia’s top ten drug corners. Making it to the number one spot was Kensington and Somerset Sts, right in the middle of Kensington (www.philadelphiaweekly.com, n.pag.).

This expose revealed a lot about the drug culture of the area and how it has affected other parts of the region. According to the article, much of the drug activity in the Northeast has been concentrated on this block, bringing in people neighborhoods all over North Philadelphia. In one undercover account, the reporter mentions, “a silver Toyota pulls up to the curb and a heavy-set blonde hops out… [and yells] ‘Who’s got works?’… Several men rush to her to be the first to make a dollar selling her a syringe” (www.thedailybeast.com, n.pag.). This sort of activity is not uncommon and because of it, more and more drug deals go down in this intersection.

However, how can drug deals be done so openly, throwing caution to the wind? Why haven’t the city of Philadelphia police done anything about this drug-ridden corner? Starting in November 2010, the Kensington neighborhood was plagued by the Kesington Strangler. This serial killer, later identified as Antonio Rodriguez, killed three women and sexually assaulted another four (abcnews.go.com, n.pag.). During his three-month stint, Philadelphia police scoured the area, sending officers all over the neighborhood in hopes of getting people to talk and help them identify the killer that was terrorizing the area. During this time, not only were police conducting interviews and questioning people, but they were also doing drug investigations at the same time, busting several internal drug rings and arresting dealers on the streets (www.philadelphiaweekly.com, n.pag.).

Antonio Rodriguez

This was the first time in a while that police actually cared about the drug markets of Kensington. Prior to the Kesington Strangler, little to none was actually done about it and after Rodriguez was caught, things returned to normal. The police basically turned a blind eye to the drugs. While the city received lots of criticism from community activists as well as representatives from other districts, Philadelphia police defended itself, stating that these drug offenses were petty crimes compared to other things around the city that deserved more attention.

This is a pretty accurate generalization of the Philadelphia police activity in Kensington. Because most of the crimes in the region are drug related, police efforts are concentrated in other neighborhoods. The police do have a presence in the neighborhood, as seen during our trip, but they mind their own business and the people of Kensington mind theirs.

Aside from drug-related crimes, Kensington also does experience its fair share of social injustice, as well as people taking advantage of the poor conditions of the neighborhood. Legal, unfair services such as check cashing centers and pawn shops litter the area. However, there are have been several cases of individuals using scams to make whatever money they can off of Kensingtonians. In the Spring of 2011, landlord Robert Coyle Sr. was accused of running a rent-to-own ponzi scheme. He promised many low income families an opportunity to invest in run down housing, using the money to pay for repairs and the mortgage, in hopes of one day having a stake in it and owning their own house.

Due to language barriers, Coyle was able to convince many non-native English speakers to give him money, in which he pocketed instead of using to pay the mortgages. Not only was he brought to court by the City Council’s Committee on Housing Neighborhood Development, but several representatives, including Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez has started a task force committee to help investigate these allegations and ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again (www.nkcdc.org, n.pag.).

Outside of law based instances, the greater Philadelphia region also plays a part in the outreach and advocacy of the neighborhood to national programs. For example, Philadelphia reached out to various organization, including IMPACT Services Corporation. Now, it has established the Kensington and Allegheny Business Association (KABA). Since it was established, KABA has provided many business related service. They talk with local business to try and find a compromise so the businesses provide relevant, yet affordable goods to the neighborhood. They also work with the city, especially on things like zoning, to help new business owners start up a store. Organizations such as these would not have a specific service, let alone a presence in these communities without the outreach work the city of Philadelphia does for the neighborhood (www.impactservices.org, n.pag.).

As mentioned in Advocacy, Community, and Civic Infrastructure section, many of  Kensington neighbors are employed outside of the neighborhood, from working in South Philadelphia and University City to Sugar House Casino right down the road. The relationship employers has with Kensington is an important one and without  the employer outreach and business advocacy programs in the area, jobs would be even more scarce than they already are.

Summary:

  • Police presence in Kensington is visible, but overall, arrests are at a minimum unless there is an ongoing threat in the neighborhood.
  • While some public works projects may take longer than usual to fulfill, the city of Philadelphia government is very involved in social justice movement, protecting its inhabitants due to poor economic levels.
  • Outreach from the city on the behalf of Kensington has led to many outreach programs that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

Sources cited:

http://factfinder.census.gov/

http://philaplanning.org/

http://www.nkcdc.org/

http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/crime&id=7833109

http://abcnews.go.com/US/confessed-kensington-strangler-antonio-rodriguez/story?id=12648308#.TuuYXxXfm2t

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/08/13/philadelphia-s-kensington-avenue-heroin-prostitution-and-no-police.html

http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/cover-story/top_10_drug_corners-38426414.html

http://www.impactservices.org/econ_dev/business/kaba.php

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Neighborhood Environment

Frankford Avenue Arts Corridor

Rising costs of living in Center City has put pressure on artists and new homeowners to spread northward in the city. Kensington has proved to be a tight knit neighborhood with a strong sense of community where newcomers and long-time residents have worked to revive the neighborhood’s creative legacy, by creating art, starting small businesses, and reoccupying a formerly dormant industrial niche. In response to these trends, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) worked with the surrounding community to create the Frankford Arts Corridor Plan. In 2004, the city of Philadelphia designated Frankford Avenue an “arts corridor.”

The Arts Corridor plan resulted in significant private investment and new development. In 2005, over 50 properties were sold along Frankford Avenue alone. Many of these were converted into new commercial or residential space. Development and street improvements have continued through 2009, with several large projects still in the works.

A project of this nature is significant in that it signaled new development centered on the needs of artists and their desire to revitalize a neighborhood with their artwork, while preserving the neighborhood’s industrial roots and vibe. The development has made strides in other areas as well.

Namely, it has sought an innovative way to address the initial catalyst for artists moving into the Kensington area: housing affordability. With that in mind, the $7.5 million Coral Street Arts House was commissioned. The project entailed the redevelopment of an old textile mill into a combination of low-income housing and artist live/work space. The project has earned recognition from historic and preservation societies, while maintaining a vibrant atmosphere that is closely linked with the community and its beautification projects.

 Waterfront

There are numerous waterfront development plans between Philadelphia and New Jersey, and Kensington is another area with a plan in development. In recent years, development pressures have been felt from sources ranging to state-initiated casino sites to high-density housing developments. In response, the NKCDC coordinated a plan for four miles of the Delaware Riverfront from Spring Garden to the Betsey Ross Bridge. The NKCDC has partnered with Neighbors Allied for a Better Riverfront (NABR), with help from Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC). The goal of this plan is the reconnect the residents of Kensington to the river through a series of developments that will make the riverfront more welcoming, safe, and vibrant. This plan will be complimentary to the larger Central Delaware Riverfront Plan undertaken by Penn Praxis and the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.

Proposed plans include development of residential housing and commercial space. There is an emphasis on making the Riverfront accessible and open to the residents of Philadelphia and the Fishtown, Port Richmond, and Kensington neighborhoods. There are extensive plans for the inclusion of green spaces, recreational parks, and activity trails.

The Big Green Block

As part of the initiatives of Sustainable 19125, The Big Green Block has been established as a location for sustainable infrastructure and education. Housed on a 20 acre site bordered by Front Street, Frankford Avenue, Palmer Street, and Norris Street, the Block was identified by the NKCDC, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), and the Office of Sustainability to help leverage other city investments aimed at greening Philadelphia. So far the site has completed installation of two water infiltration basins to capture storm water runoff from nearby streets and parking lots. For the city’s Water Department, the Big Green Block serves as a model for storm water management for the rest of the city, collecting more than 11 million gallons of run off on a yearly basis and saving residents an estimated $6 billion.

The video below features The Big Green Block:

Land Use Management Department

Both public and private funding allow the NKCDC’s Land Use Management Department to focus on the transformation of abandoned vacant lots into clean, green open spaces. Various land stabilization processes transform a vacant lot for use as a park, garden, or green space. A monthly management plan for each revitalized lot includes cutting the grass, removing trash and debris, tree-trimming, and mulching. Through programs with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s TreeVitalize, Philly Tree People, and Sustainable 19125 Green Guides, the Department has successfully planted hundreds of trees throughout the neighborhood.

Over 50 vacant lots sitting aside properties have had their titles transferred to the property owners in what is known as the sideyard program.

In a 2004 study by Susan Watcher of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, the author concluded that vacant land improvements result in the increase of value for surrounding housing by as much as 30%. Even the simple tasks of new tree planting have increased surrounding house values by 10%. She quotes, “In the New Kensington area, this translates to a $4 million gain in property value through tree plantings and a $12 million gain through lot improvements.” New Kensington’s approach can serve as a pilot site for understanding the impact of public investments in the Philadelphia landscape.

 

These are just a few of the neighborhood plans and initiatives to make Kensington and the surrounding area a vibrant, welcoming part of the city that offers a range of interests from art to commerce to sustainability. Efforts are being made every day to enhance the viability and environment in Kensington. But the fact still remains that a greater number of resources are being directed to the Fishtown/Olde Richmond area. While Kensington proper strives to stay afloat with modest efforts geared toward vacant lots, Fishtown/Olde Richmond are filling those lots with arts, sustainable fixtures, and gardens. It begs to question when some of that resource allocation, and perhaps even initiative, will be felt in the part of Kensington that sometimes feels left to decay.

 

Works Cited:

“The Determinants of Neighborhood Transformations in Philadelphia – Identification and Analysis: The Pilot Study.” Susan Wachter.  The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 12 Jul. 2004. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

Frankford Avenue Arts Corridor. New Kensington Community Development Corporation, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

New Kensington Community Development Corporation. N.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

“New Kensington Riverfront Plan.” New Kensington Community Development Corporation, Feb. 2008. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

Sustainable 19125. New Kensington Community Development Corporation, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

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