In Kensington, a community plagued by drugs and prostitution, neighbors are fighting back.
And if all goes according to plan, Kensington’s streets will become safer for children to play on. Vacant lots, which
can be urban hideaways for criminal activity, will be parks.
And instead of abandoned buildings, there will be recreation centers.
But it isn’t an overnight plan or a pipe dream of one individual. These are the goals of the city’s newest civic association, Somerset Neighbors for Better Living, composed of residents who aim to be of service to the Kensington community, mostly in areas near the Market-Frankford Elevated Line at Kensington Avenue and Somerset Street.
During a March 5 meeting at the Community Women’s Education Project, at Frankford Avenue and Somerset Street, neighbors said the community effort is overdue.
“Eventually what we want is a community-led organization that is facilitated and run by neighbors,” said Kevin Musselman, the Kensington-area neighborhood advisory committee coordinator for the New Kensington Community Development Corp. “Right now we’re just helping them get there.”
The community effort began as a joint project between the NKCDC and the Community Design Collaborative to produce a neighborhood planning study for the next 15 to 20 years.
“We’re just trying to make this neighborhood a better place for neighbors to live in,” said Musselman. “I think there is a lot in this neighborhood to be proud of. It has a bad reputation and there are bad things that happen, but there are great people who live here.”
The new group’s exact reach has yet to be voted on, but the boundaries are tentatively set to include Kensington and Frankford avenues between Lehigh Avenue and Somerset Street. The program aims to change the lack of public space around the Somerset El stop and revitalize the neighborhood.
The SNBL is a specialized group, intended to serve a small area, bringing together those at the heart of the neighborhood.
“The great people who live here are sick of the bad publicity and reputation that come with living in this area,” Musselman added. “A lot of this is about community pride and activism.”
With completion of that neighborhood plan last September, the SNBL has had monthly meetings since November. From 30 to 100 community members have turned out for the sessions, with visits from members of the 24th Police District and the area’s city councilman, Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.), to show their support of the community efforts.
In addition, the SNBL has four committees that focus on specific issues in the community, each run by appointed and passionate members.
The committees encompass a clean-and-green committee, which intends to spruce up area parks and lots; youth engagement, which wants to involve young people in community activities; licenses and inspections, which focuses on targeting and fixing abandoned buildings; and a welcome committee, which will host potlucks and other events to make new neighbors feel connected in the community.
At the most recent meeting, member Carlos Mitti presented a list of several vacant lots that he hopes to eventually see turned into community centers for children.
In addition, youth-engagement committee leader Renee Massey said her goal is to make the community safer by having more playgrounds for children to enjoy.
“Parents will be a major source of the project,” she said. “They need to make commitments. If the parents aren’t going to make themselves available and know where these activities are, then it is not going to be successful.”
During the session, Councilman Squilla also expressed his devotion to the area, but said the revival project would not be easy.
ldquo;I can’t do this by myself, you can’t do this by yourself,” Squilla told the roughly 40 people in attendance. “We need to do it together. You need to be our eyes and ears and inform us. Without your help, whether it’s graffiti removal or cleaning the neighborhood, if you don’t tell anybody, it stays there. But if you call and get on it, someone will do it.”
Members of the group seemed optimistic for the future, regardless of the obstacles ahead. The next steps include a community walk-through with city inspectors, weekend cleanups, and spring plantings at Kensington Farms, Frankford Avenue and Cambria Street.
“It’s about changing the perception of this neighborhood,” Musselman said. “That’s why we came up with the name ‘Better Living.’ It’s something positive.”
“I think the area around the El stop has been known as being about heroin and prostitutes for the longest time,” Musselman added. “Wouldn’t it be great if the people who live in this area were having potlucks and movies night for kids, and doing all these great things, and that was in the news?” ••
The next Somerset Neighbors for Better Living meeting will be 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 2, at the Community Women’s Education Project at Frankford Avenue and Somerset Street.