Dumping on North Philadelphia – a reporter’s frustration

    I’ll be away for a few days, but I wanted to leave you with this. My friend and colleague here at WHYY, Elizabeth Fiedler, has lived in North Philadelphia with her husband for seven years. As the neighborhood has become attractive to developers, she’s seen the callous disregard some contractors have for the communities they work in, and the failure of city agencies to enforce the laws that govern them.

    After covering a news conference by City Controller Alan Butkovitz on the topic, she wrote this:

    For over a year my neighborhood in Lower North Central Philadelphia has been under attack — by contractors who’ve swooped in to renovate the empty row homes on my block. Some of the places have been empty for years. Others were inhabited by families until recently.

    Fixing up a run-down place and getting people to live there — whether a single family or, as in many cases, Temple University students — is on its surface a wonderful thing. I’ve rarely had problems with the students, who, by and large have been respectful of the neighborhood.

    The problem that has plagued my neighborhood? The contractors and developers. One in particular has renovated at least three homes on my block. Each time it’s the same routine: dumpsters sit for weeks — overflowing, without permits, piles of construction trash left around the perimeter. One contractor told me his repeated illegal dumping and overflowing dumpsters don’t matter because, “Look around, no one in this neighborhood cares about this place.”

    After all, what’s the point of paying more to follow the law if the law isn’t going to force you to do so?

    For well over a year I’ve followed the proper protocol: calling 311, tweeting 311, calling the councilman’s office, calling SWEEP, calling L&I and, during moments of desperation while watching the dumping happen, calling 911. This has lead to occasional moments of success — the city has had a couple of dumpsters removed after they sat there for weeks overflowing, attracting animals and, maybe worst of all, attracting even more illegal black trash bags, mattresses and chunks of concrete.

    On a recent quick drive through the area Controller Alan Butkovitz mentioned in his report, I was startled to realize that around my block looked the worst. There may be a worse spot out there — most of my problems are messy construction and illegal dumping — but it’s impossible to ignore how bad mine looks.

    Right now I can see three mountains of dirt from my window. One block away is a big pile of phonebooks and other trash that poured out of a dumpster that was eventually carted away. There’s also a huge pile of dirt.

    It’s heart-breaking to live in a neighborhood full of a lot of wonderful people — recent and longtime residents — yet feel like the city has turned its back on your neighborhood and left you to the wolves.

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