Not easy for a parent amid Northern Liberties development, but the kids are all right

     (Image courtesy of Plan Philly)

    (Image courtesy of Plan Philly)

    My husband and I moved to Northern Liberties from Fairmount in 2013. After several years of city living, we needed three-bedrooms and found a fixer-upper in a more affordable neighborhood. Sometimes I wish I had never set foot in the place.

    My husband and I moved to Northern Liberties from Fairmount in 2013. After several years of city living, we needed three-bedrooms and found a fixer-upper in a more affordable neighborhood. The stairs are steep and the rooms narrow, but for the first time in my adult life, I have my own outdoor plants to water.

    The European aesthetic here draws artists with its grit and its architecture, its winding side streets and the semi-hidden gardens that dogs sniff on early-morning walks. A brooding mood haunts the blocks east of Poe’s house on 7th; ironically, perhaps, it makes for good neighbors. Whether they have deep roots or transient souls, the folks on our block are vigilant yet self-centered enough to mind their own business.

    Sometimes I wish I had never set foot in the place.

    Feels like chaos to me

    Six months after we moved, a progression of collapsed lateral water lines created a sinkhole in our street that took out a Dodge Ram. Workmen repaired that damage but crushed our line in the process. That “fix” left our street in disarray, barricaded with cement blocks until weather would “allow for proper resurfacing.” A lack of communication between the Water and Streets Departments also left a large gap in the curb. Concerns about this hole went unheeded.

    Five months later, storm runoff poured through the curb and more than 18 inches of water accumulated in our basement. We spent hours on the phone and email, recounting our story to various city officials who sent Kafkaesque inspectors to assess the damage. Each promised to return but disappeared into a report.

    The city did eventually fix the problem. I know our story is not unique, but it is hard to see our frustration echoed in the voices of others as construction threatens the physical and aesthetic infrastructure of Northern Liberties.

    Weighty equipment penetrates lots from Front to 6th, Spring Garden to Girard. Jackhammers and bulldozers awaken our children in the early morning and keep them alert during naptime. Fences, holes, rubble and ladders block our sidewalks to walkers. Brick dust covers gardens and windows. “No parking” signs go up overnight; commuters scramble as they search nearby blocks for towed cars. Rotating through a maze of street closures, tires pick up nails accumulated near sloppy construction sites, the future homes of tax-abatement listings with faux brick facades.

    Facebook records our concerns. People tire of calling 311 and 911 with questions and complaints, of contacting Councilman Clarke’s office and the press, of waiting for things to get better.

    Feels like home to her

    I look at my 3-year-old daughter, and I wonder how different her early sensory impressions must be from those I had in the suburbs. When family and friends thought pregnancy meant the end of my city life, I dogmatically defended my choice to stay. She would have a richer upbringing here, I said. She would experience greater diversity, have more cultural opportunities, develop a savvier sense of safety than I did.

    Now I fight the worry that she is my urban guinea pig. Is bringing her up in this environment in her best interest, or my stubborn one? Elsewhere, the schools are better, the sidewalks clearer for tricycle riders.

    I think about these things on our afternoon walks. We are both tired: I from work and the pull of my 8-months-pregnant body; she from jumping like a frog at preschool. Barks interrupt our reverie at the corner of 3rd and Brown, where dogs in the shelter’s yard beg for our attention. We smile and wave. We name them before continuing on to Liberty Lands, the two-acre park born from a grass-roots initiative. Next to the small field that hosts music festivals and a bocce ball league, my daughter squeals as she runs from the swings to chase a butterfly. She has the same joyous expression when she tears through the Piazza and jumps into my arms from the side of the rec center’s pool.

    Ignorant of the elements that set me on edge, she sings on our way back home. Like it or not, I realize, this is her childhood landscape – more industrial and less grassy than mine, but full of the same laughter, tantrums and questions.

    I grapple with the stroller as we walk up the steps from the sidewalk to our door. Horns honk at a debris-filled pick-up truck parked in the street. A passing dog-walker pauses to complain, but I hesitate to commiserate. Fumbling with the keys, I unlock the door and she skips into the place that she loves: my house, her home.

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