During our trip through Kensington, it was interesting to see the different aspects of the neighborhood and to see what the state of East Philadelphia was like. Looking at civic structure, several things stood out, especially in the realm of advocacy, community and civic infrastructure.
Hovering over along Kensington Ave from Front St to Frankford Ave is the El, the Market-Frankford Line. Serving as one of the main overhead SEPTA lines in the city, it runs straight through the Kensington neighborhood, serving the Fishtown, East Kensington, and Kensington neighborhoods (www.septa.org, n.pag.). In addition to the blue line, Buses #5, #39, and #54 serve as one of the main transportation services for the neighborhood, as it is often used by many people for various reasons. Because it’s one of the few modes of transportation that Kensingtonians can afford, many use it to get to and from their jobs. According to the local New Kensington Community Development Corporation, many of the neighborhood’s citizens work in areas outside of Kensington, including the newly opened Sugar House Casino. The busy Kensington and Allegheny stop, more commonly referred to K&A, is one of the main reasons why businesses such as the Walgreens and Dunkin’ Donuts on the block are able to sustain themselves.
When compared to the other, more developed neighborhood of Fishtown, Kensington has access to fewer transit lines, which leads more crowded rides as well as cars in worse condition. One important thing to note is that Fishtown has 4 different car sharing pods, compared to the zero of the greater Kensington neighborhood. It is of course more common to see more sophisticated services such as car sharing in more developed regions, however it is arguable that these services actually increase the state of the neighborhoods. Car sharing increases green initiatives, which may be one of the main reasons why some neighborhoods choose to have these spots. It also contributes to community awareness and unity, which is important in improving an urban regions and increasing other neighborhood initiatives (Business Directory, 49).
On the walks around the neighborhood, another interesting observation was the amount of trash lying around. One major difference between Kensington and neighborhoods such as University City and Old City is the sanitation system and how the neighborhood disposes of its trash. When walking around, there are no curb side city-run public trash cans, and when looking at residential trash cans, there is no uniform system. Different types of trash cans, bags, etc are strewn across the streets and it shows that the state of public sanitation is not a high standard. Also, there were no recycling bins present, suggesting that recycling initiatives are little to none. The systems are all run through the city, through various waste management facilities. However, pickup for the entire region is all on Thursday, making it difficult for waste facility employees to pinpoint exact areas of need or to give them enough time to do more than empty the bins set out for them (http://citymaps.phila.gov/map/default.aspx, n. pag.).
While driving through Fishtown, we could see much more sanitation initiatives, including public trash cans, recycling bins, and overall cleaner streets. Access to good sanitation and waste management programs go a long way in improving the image of a neighborhood. In fact, zip code region 19125, which encompasses much of the Fishtown region, recently won city-wide recognition for being a “green block” (www.sustainable19125.org, n.pag.). In its third year of operation, Sustainable 19125 is a program run out of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (or NKCDC). With the goal of being the most sustainable zip code in the city, it’s making strides in achieving this goal, not only by having strong and passionate leaders in the office, but also but engaging and involving neighbors to larger extents. They have done everything from doing “Compost Coop” collaborations with Philly Compost as well as eCycling initiatives with eForce. All of these programs are all in attempts of bringing the Fishtown, and hopefully over time, the Kensington neighborhoods up and back on their feet.
In addition to Sustainable 19125, there have been other recycling and more “green” initiatives going on around the neighborhood. One in particular that has been marketed more to the Kensington neighborhood due to its incentives program is the Recycling Pays movement set forth by the mayor’s office. This new initiative is literally what it states. Using a points system based on the levels of recycling participating households have, families can earn points on their account every week and use them to redeem for prizes such as gift cards to the grocery store or coupons for website that sell affordable, yet green-based clothing and accessories (www.recyclingpays.phila.gov, n.pag.). This program has two intended effects. First, it is to increase general levels of recycling. With this increase, more improvements such as cleaner roads and environmentally aware citizens are just a few steps away. Additionally, the rewards that the program offers help incentivize better living habits, like maintaining a balanced diet and eating healthier foods. While it is a relatively new program, there have been measured levels of increased recycling. As far as changes to lifestyle, that is something we hope to see down the road.
Kensington is home to over 20 different churches in the area and it is no surprise that they play a large role in the inhabiting neighbors. Not only are many people patrons of these churches, but they also run many community oriented programs through them. For example, many churches run educational workshops, smaller prayer groups, as well as soup kitchens to help those in need (http://www.stfrancisinn.org/, n.pag.). The popularity and diversity of the area’s churches act as a strength because as an institution they are able to reach a vast and diverse group of people.
The condition of roads is also in a state of dismay. While main roads such as Kensington Ave and Frankford Ave are high traffic access points and need more attention than other streets, smaller, inner neighborhood roads such as East Wishart are in shambles while other streets such as East Lippincott are in much better shape, despite them being right next to each other (this is based off of observations made during the field work). The city does have many road projects throughout the city at the same time, but actual progress in one neighborhood to the next is little to none. It seems that unless it is one of the high traffic, main thoroughfares through the area, it has a low priority to the rest of the city. On the other hand, roads in Fishtown are in much better condition. It seems as if their roads either need fewer maintenance calls or they are just of higher priority of the city’s public works department.
The city of Philadelphia encourages neighborhoods to have their own neighborhood watch committees and Kensington is no exception. Neighborhood volunteers walk the streets at night, monitoring the area and trying to keep everyone in check. While the overall long-term effect the organization has on actual crime still cannot be analyzed yet, data has shown that from year to year, crime rates and the number of arrests have gone down (www.phila.gov/townwatch, n.pag.).
Also under the area of civic infrastructure are parks and recreation. Unfortunately, there aren’t many recreational areas in the Kensington region. If there aren’t housing complexes or businesses, there are usually empty lots that are plagued with high weeds and whatever the neighborhood’s drug market brings in. Often times, these empty lots are where heroin and PCP addicts go to shoot up due to being hidden from the public eye as well as lower police monitoring, which will be explained in the section about Kensington’s relationship with the Greater Philadelphia region.
As mentioned before, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) is an organization that has devoted itself to the betterment of the community. As its mission statement reads, “NKCDC’s mission is to strengthen the physical, social, and economics fabric of the community by being a catalyst for sustainable development and community building” (www.nkcdc.org, n.pag.). It was originally formed to meet the housing needs of the neighborhood, transforming old abandoned buildings into affordable housing for first-time buyers. Now it does everything from converting old factories for new uses to other green initiatives, as mentioned above.
- Public transportation plays a big role in Kensington, which is served by the Market-Frankford line, as well as three other bus lines.
- Sanitation and waste management services are well below par, with infrequent pickup and no uniform system of disposal.
- The New Kensington Community Development Corporation is home to many neighborhood improvement initiatives, including sustainability and green programs.
- Poor road conditions and empty, drug-ridden lots are not uncommon, especially due to the relationships Kensington has with local and city authorities.
NKCDC Business Directory and Neighborhood Resource Guide