South Kensington Block Deals with Rodents, Vacancy and Broken Sidewalks

Residents of the 1800 block of North 4th Street, between Berks and North Cadwallader streets, talked about the quality of life on their block with Alyssa Saylor and Sara Khan, as part of their reporting from South Kensington for Philadelphia Neighborhoods/PlanPhilly. Here’s the view from their stoops – of safety, vacancy, and a neighborhood in transition.

Twaneka and Lazarine Pack
(Philadelphia Neighborhoods)

The 1800 block of North Fourth Street starts with a small yard where children love to play in the summer. Several ignored lots with overgrown grass and trash weave in between the red brick townhouses. The “Rat House”—an abandoned building that breeds fearless rats—sits between another empty lot and a family residence. A small convenience store mainly sells Puerto Rican food at the other end of the block.

“It’s really quiet and peaceful—no trouble at all,” said Lazarine Pack, a resident of the block for the last 12 years. “I’m satisfied here.”

Some of her family members want a busier neighborhood.

“My grandkids don’t like it. They say it’s too boring,” she said.

“It’s just quiet,” said Twaneka Pack, Pack’s 18-year-old granddaughter. She said she wishes there were more people—especially of her age—to liven up the block.

This South Kensington block was not always as calm.

A Changed Neighborhood Block

“Ten years ago, it was really bad…There used to be drugs around here,” said Luis Colon, co-owner of Elizabeth Mini Market at the end of the block.

“We used to have three kinds of drugs on our corner,” he said pointing in front of the convenience store and across the street. He said he credits Operation Safe Streets, a Philadelphia crime prevention initiative implemented in 2002, for “putting cops on every corner.”

He said he thinks the neighborhood is much better now, especially because he sees cops regularly patrolling the streets and new construction.

“Safety is way better than it was 10 years ago…Now after all these developments and the new houses around here and in Northern Liberties, it’s getting more peaceful around here,” he said.

He said that the block’s major problems today are the abandoned property and vacant lots.

“They could renovate it [the abandoned building] into something good to the eye,” he said.

The “Rat House”

“We call that the Rat House,” said resident Pito Vazquez. The sole abandoned building on the block is boarded up, but its lack of maintenance has allowed it to become a breeding ground for pests.

“You come out here at night and that’s [rats] all you see—big ones,” Pack added. “You can see three or four of them sometimes—[all] big.”

“They [her family] came out here the other night and there was one crawling around my daughter’s truck,” she said.

The rodent problems keep Pack away from her townhouse’s stoop.

“That’s why in the summertime, I don’t come sit out here… Water bugs, rats, I don’t know where they come from,” she added. She said she was unconvinced something would be done to fix the rodent problem.

“That’s probably the only thing I can complain about, the abandoned house…and the sidewalks,” Vazquez said. “The sidewalk is messed up.”

Broken Sidewalks Are a Problem

1800 North 4th - vacant lots and broken sidewalks
(Philadelphia Neighborhoods)

Children from the neighborhood block usually play on the other side of the street, where the sidewalk is new and unbroken.

“I think the sidewalks can be fixed up—help the kids out a little bit as they ride their bikes,” said resident and grandfather Craig Seawright who has lived on the block for eight years.

“Sidewalks could be paved and smoothed instead of them [children] falling into little ditches and cracks, so basically just fix it up a little bit to even it out for something good for the kids,” he added.

Traveling in this neighborhood block is difficult because of the uneven pavement.

“If I walk down there, I have to walk in the street because I’m scared I might twist my ankle or something,” Pack said. She finds the sidewalks very inconvenient.

“When you walk down here, you have to step down because there’s no pavement at all,” Pack said pointing to the sidewalk gaps. “It’s just ridiculous.”

Severe weather coupled with the poor sidewalks pose interesting challenges for pedestrians.

“Well with this particular block, the only time I would have a problem is if it snows because of the gaps and the vacancies,” said Michael Labohne, the block’s letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. “Nobody shovels in front of a vacant property or a gap.”

“When it would snow, I’d have to be extra careful walking with the bad sidewalks and the trash and stuff—that’s the only problem I’ve had on this block,” he said.

Most residents are pessimistic any improvements will be made for their sidewalks.

“They [sidewalks] were always like this. They won’t do anything about it,” Pack said. If there is any construction on the neighborhood block, Pack said she wants to see the sidewalks fixed.

Everyone on the Block Loves the Children

Most families in this neighborhood have young children.

“There are a lot of children on this block so when we do things [events], we do it for the kids,” Vazquez said. He said his own family has a lot of kids and pointed out four other households with young children.

“All the kids play together…They’re having fun,” Seawright said. He said he thinks the children bring together the neighborhood community.

“When we were younger, we did play out here a lot,” said Seawright’s 23-year-old daughter, Racquel.

Today, her children also play on the same South Kensington block, albeit across the street where the sidewalk is unbroken.

— Alyssa Saylor and Sara Kahn, Philadelphia Neighborhoods

This spring Alyssa Saylor and Sara Khan are bringing Eyes on the Street and PlanPhilly dispatches from South Kensington as part of their work for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a publication of Temple’s Multimedia Reporting Lab. PlanPhilly is a Philadelphia Neighborhoods partner.

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