Late last week, 2d District Councilperson Kenyatta Johnson proposed legislation to “prohibit the construction of bay windows and balconies” in Point Breeze and Grays Ferry.
The proposal’s timing is curious as it comes the week after Johnson’s decisive victory in the May 21 Democratic primary, virtually guaranteeing him an additional four years on City Council — it was an election where concerns regarding gentrification and displacement took center stage.
With these real and important issues facing the 2d District, why would Johnson choose bay windows as the first postelection legislation? Why would he use this mandate for something so frivolous and ineffective? What could that meeting possibly have been like? Here, I imagine what could have led to such a bizarre turn of events:
SCENE: City Hall Room 580, the office of Councilperson Kenyatta Johnson. Mid-May 2019. Senior staff meeting.
Staffer 1: Councilman Johnson, congrats on your victory in the primary. The voters have spoken, and they are pleased with your eight years of service. What should we tackle first?
Staffer 2: Street sweeping?
Staffer 1: Keeping property taxes low and reasonable?
Staffer 3: Making pre-K available to everyone?
Councilperson Johnson: Banning bay windows.
Staffer 1: Sir?
Councilperson Johnson: You heard me. Have you seen some of these houses? They have windows on three sides. THREE.
Staffer 1: But, sir, residents rely on those to keep the trash kicked up by the leaf blowers at bay. That’s where they get their name.
Councilperson Johnson: I have nightmares about those things. Do you know what those windows do? There’s more natural light. And jutting out from the front gives more space for families to live. It’s just horrifying. You can track back all of the district’s problems to (shudders) bay windows.
Staffer 1: I don’t follow.
Councilperson Johnson: Point Breeze is on the verge of being completely remade. It’s time we get smart about this. Before you know it, entire blocks will be rebuilt with no regard to whether they displace longtime residents. If we don’t act quickly, there will be poorly planned development, with no rhyme or reason.
Staffer 1: Sir, that’s been happening for ye--
Councilperson Johnson: And who’s been in charge that entire time?
(The room gets awkwardly silent)
Councilperson Johnson: We all know bay windows are symbols of Philadelphia gentrification like Ring doorbells, ironic Gritty merch, composting, workout classes, and being interested in IPAs. In fact, I’d like my agenda to be centered on banning anything that could possibly make it easier to build new houses. What else can we ban? What is the next bay window?
Staffer 1: Shoddy and non-permitted construction makes displacement easier. Why don’t we crack down on that?
Councilperson Johnson: I said the stuff that matters.
Staffer 1: Well, gentrifiers sure do love buying houses. We could make that more controlled.
Councilperson Johnson: That’s why I make sure my friends get first crack at them. It’s my prerogative. Next!
Staffer 1: Coffee shops?
Councilperson Johnson: Eh.
Staffer 1: Soda?
Councilperson Johnson: We did that already.
Staffer 1: Illegal dumping from developers?
Staffer 3: (whispers to Staffer 1) A reminder: In City Council, we all call them “donors.”
Councilperson Johnson: You’re not hearing me. I want to protect the important traditions about Point Breeze. Like getting exercise from walking around cars parked on the sidewalk in front of people’s homes.
Staffer 1: Speaking of traditions, we could encourage development on Point Breeze Avenue. We could even give grants to encourage local ownership. Imagine its return to glory a place with shops and neighborhood services. Even a movie theater playing Michael Bay movies.
Councilperson Johnson: No bays.
Staffer 1: What about Queen Bey?
Staffer 2: For God’s sake, how dare you?
Councilperson Johnson: C’mon, people, let’s get our priorities in order. I’ve just been elected by double-digit percentages for my third term. I oversee a vast, diverse, rapidly changing district that includes the airport, Rittenhouse Square, and some of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in the country. Now is the time for bold action! I need ideas.
Staffer 2: I’m new here, but how about we use our power to enact policies that help every resident who cares about the neighborhood, no matter when you moved here, that actually protect against displacement? Why don’t we use this time as a unique opportunity to unite people from all walks of life?
(Room erupts in laughter.)