The front-page article, "Firestorm: City-owned abandoned factories a threat to neighbors," is one of the most important pieces of city reporting in the more than three decades I've lived in the Philadelphia area. The reporting is powerful and spot-on, but there are some addendums to this ever-evolving story.
It's true that the 7-alarm fire and resulting devastation that scorched our community was fueled in part by failures within city governmental structures. These actions — or rather inactions — are inexcusable, and would not have happened in a more affluent section of this great city. That, however, was 2007. I'm excited to say that the Philadelphia government I know in 2012 is far different. As property owners and neighbors, we've been able to directly interface with L&I, Councilwoman Sanchez's office, Streets and Sanitation departments, and the 24th Police District.
I've personally had the chance to work with L&I, identifying dozens of properties with violations within a block of the H Street lot. One inspector, Kenneth Carruth, personally took time after work hours to join us in neighborhood meetings and inform us as to how better to utilize the tools that L&I has in place to help us help ourselves. Maura Kennedy, director of strategic initiatives for L&I, has provided invaluable support and insight. With their help we've pushed a number of absentee slumlord property owners to either rehab their properties or get out of our community.
A huge help to the community has been our Councilwoman, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, and her staff. They are in conversation with us weekly on major issues like drug activity and vacant land, as well as about things as simple but incredibly important as "No Loitering" signs and adding street lights. Their willingness to work with us, their constituents, has deeply inspired us to do more, knowing that we have their support. The work of Councilwoman Sa´nchez on vacant property reform will forever change the neighborhood. On May 21, the city unveiled an initiative that will make it easier for residents to obtain vacant lots. Through the efforts of Councilwoman Sa´nchez on the Vacant Property Task Force, abandoned lots will become a thing of the past.
A critically important ally in the effort to "clean and green" vacant lots has been our friends at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). Their investment into the H Street lot is a gift we are most grateful for. Their support helped create a permanent park (Phoenix Community Park & Gardens) and a civic association to support our newfound jewel of Kensington. In fact, neighbors are already signing up as "Tree Tenders" and "Garden Tenders" through PHS programs.
Kensington has long had a reputation for its high crime rates. In 2011, our neighborhood was named the poorest section of the poorest neighborhood in the city of Philadelphia, ranked No. 1 in homicides and fifth in the top-ten drug corners. Flash forward a year to 2012 and things are already improving. The streets of Kensington have become safer over recent weeks and months. John MacDonald and Impact Services, through the K&A Business Association, installed bicycle-safety ambassadors in our immediate area; a big help for local businesses. The 24th Police District Police has increased its presence exponentially. I personally met Commissioner Ramsey last week and thanked him for appointing Captain Vogt, an inspiring and driven officer who's making a big difference on our streets.
Despite missteps in the past, city organizations, community groups and neighbors are coming together to make something beautiful and transformative. There is a renewed sense of pride in the neighborhood: streets are swept every day; open-air drug activity is at an all-time low. Children are outside playing in the streets again, excited to watch their new park be built right in front of their eyes. We as property owners, neighbors and advocates are excited to see the actions taken by city departments and affiliated organizations working with the community to move forward together towards a safer and healthier Kensington.