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A Kensington resident’s walk to school: ‘There is a visible disparity of where the City chooses to spend its money’

matthew taveras photo kensington
Matthew Taveras views the clean buildings and environment on the corner of Albert and Emerald streets on November 24, 2021. (Photo by Khysir Carter)

Hi, my name is Matthew Taveras. I am a member of Youth United for Change (YUC), a nonprofit youth organizing group. Recently, I wrote an essay about my perspective as a Kensington native on trash in the neighborhood. In my essay, I touch on my alienation caused by the trash in the neighborhood. Through my time at YUC, I have been able to take a step back and re-evaluate how I view trash and its impact on my community. I also explained  YUC’s campaign to address the issue of trash in Kensington. To read my essay, click here

While writing the essay, I pointed out that Lehigh Avenue is the divide of investment in the communities of Kensington and Fishtown. Joia McManus, YUC Kensington organizer, and I decided to take photos to represent that true divide. The following photos were taken along Emerald Street. This is the route I take walking to school every day. These photos are intended to show the disparities along Emerald Street and north and south of Lehigh Avenue. On this route, Lehigh Avenue serves as a clear boundary for where the city invests and disinvests.

The divide of trash and investment in our communities

matthew taveras photo kensington
Picture of a well-kept sidewalk along Emerald St. taken on November 11, 2021. (Photo by Matthew Taveras)
matthew taveras photo kensington
A photo of a large pile of trash near Lehigh Ave. and Emerald St. intersection, taken on November 11, 2021. (Photo by Matthew Taveras)

On the top photograph, you can see the southern side of Lehigh Avenue along the cross street of Emerald Street. Here you can see less litter, and the personal trash is in order. On the northern side of Lehigh Avenue, (bottom photograph) there is more visible litter; and more trash dumped on the side of the street. In both images, there is an evident lack of personal trash cans owned by residents.

matthew taveras photo kensington
Photo of buildings on the west side of Emerald St. and Lehigh Ave. intersection, taken on November 11, 2021. (Photo by Matthew Taveras)
Photo of Emerald St. and Lehigh Ave. intersection on the east side of Emerald St. and Lehigh Ave. intersection, taken on November 11, 2021. (Photo by Matthew Taveras)

These photographs above show the opposite sides of Lehigh Avenue. The photograph on top shows clean and what appears to be well-maintained buildings, and the second photograph on the bottom is what is assumed to be poorly maintained. Under the bridge, there are homeless encampments. (We did not take any photos there to respect their privacy.) 

matthew taveras photo kensington
Photo of maintained buildings near Emerald and Cumberland streets, taken on November 11, 2021. (Photo by Matthew Taveras)
matthew taveras photo kensington
Photo of dumped trash in an alleyway on Emerald and Silver streets, taken on November 11, 2021. (Photo by Matthew Taveras)

These photographs above show a comparison of side streets on opposite sides of Lehigh Avenue. In the top photograph, you can see clean streets and heavily gentrified homes. In the second photograph, the side streets are used for trash dumping. You can see tires, broken glass panes, and the remnants of a car accident that was once on the main street. After the pieces of the car were not picked up and disposed of, residents, having no other place to dispose of these large items, moved it to this side street.

Photo of a community space near Emerald and Hazard streets, taken on November 11, 2021. (Photo by Matthew Taveras)
matthew taveras photo kensington
Photo of a lot near Emerald and Cambria streets intersection, taken on November 11, 2021. (Photo by Matthew Taveras)

The photographs above show community spaces near Lehigh Avenue. In the top photograph, the space south of Lehigh has a painted fence and flower pots, and the other space north of Lehigh has a half-built, broken-down fence and a beautiful tree.

matthew taveras photo kensington
Photo of a dead rat and other trash left in a lot located between Cambria and East William streets, taken on November 11, 2021. (Photo by Matthew Taveras)
Photo of a large building in construction located near Emerald and Haggert streets, taken on December 16, 2021. (Photo by Matthew Taveras)

These two photographs above show two different lots. In the top photograph, the lot in Kensington shows a dead rodent lying on the ground surrounded by trash. The bottom photograph shows a lot in Fishtown, which was empty three months ago, that has been bought and construction is underway. 

There are many empty lots on the uninvested northern side of Lehigh Avenue. These lots are filled with trash and dead rodents. Many are home to the people who live and sleep in the streets. The southern side of Lehigh Avenue is sparse with empty lots as development takes over. The empty lots on the invested southern side of Lehigh Avenue are bought up and built on with brand-new fancy apartment complexes that get rented for about $2,000 a month. There are empty lots on the northern side that can be used for housing and shelters for people experiencing homelessness, but on the other side, the empty lots are bought up and used to enhance the neighborhood’s already drastic level of gentrification.

Photo of a cracked pavement near Emerald and Somerset streets, taken on November 11, 2021. (Photo by Matthew Taveras)
Photo of a well-kept pavement near Emerald and Cumberland streets, taken on December 13, 2021. (Photo by Matthew Taveras)

These photographs above compare the sidewalk maintenance on the north and south side of Lehigh Avenue along Emerald Street. As seen in the top photograph, some sidewalks on the northern side are so poorly maintained that residents have to walk in the street to avoid potholes. In the second photograph, we can see how the southern side of Lehigh Avenue is well maintained.

Overall, this experience has left me feeling neglected by the City of Philadelphia. The city that I’ve lived in my entire life has left my neighborhood in the dust compared to other areas that have clearly received more love from the City. The fact that there is a visible disparity of where the City chooses to spend its money and care for people is disheartening. The City truly needs to revitalize how it views Kensington as a whole. A more positive view could also have an impact on Philadelphians who have a negative view of Kensington and its residents. This is why Youth United for Change’s plan to help the residents of Lehigh is so important. We need to improve our view of ourselves as residents in our neighborhood and the outsider’s view. However, this won’t be possible if we don’t hold the City responsible for its wrongdoings. Kensington should be a place where we as residents feel happy and safe. It should be a place we’re proud of and hold dear to our hearts. When someone asks us where we are from, we can proudly say we are from Kensington!


Editors: Solmaira Valerio, Zari Tarazona, Khysir Carter / Designer: Henry Savage

Kensington Voice is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly.

What did you think about this story? Send a note to editors@kensingtonvoice.com, and we’ll consider publishing it in our Voices section. You can also tell us what you think in person at our neighborhood events.

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