Thursday, December 3, 2009

52nd and Market

These photographs document a section of Market Street between 46th and 52nd, only yards away from the studio where American Bandstand was filmed from 1952 to 1964. The neighborhood has seen more than its share of decay since Dick Clark was teaching American to do the Mashed Potato and the Twist: the last few decades have seen the loss of jobs and population, the increase of crime and drug use, and the decay and abandonment of the sturdy rowhomes that once housed Philadelphia's prospering middle class. Garbage now lines the streets and fills the vacant, overgrown lots: cardboard boxes, plastics bags, Chinese take-out cartons, aluminum pipes, table legs, sheets of particle board, punctured window screens, shattered 40oz bottles, collapsed wicker chairs, discarded jackets, trash bags of clothes, bins of soaked waste paper, abandoned couches, empty bottles of motor oil, beer cans, lengths of wire fence, fallen tree limbs, dead leaves, broken bricks, hunks of concrete.

A grimy, bombed-out ghetto is not difficult to find in Philadelphia, but the towering oxidized steel pillars and rails of the Market-Frankfurt El lend this stretch of Market Street a special oppressiveness: here even the gray December sky is obstructed by industrial utility. It augments every emotion; colors every thought in the hues of old brick, junk weeds, weather wood and metal, asphalt, and mud. It is not a place that invites exploration. It instills in visitors a desire to hurry through, not to dawdle. It likely instills in residents a similar feeling.

Crime has long been an issue in the area. 52nd and Market was named #8 on a list of Philadelphia's Top Ten Drug Corners that reporter Steve Volk compiled for in 2007. That same year The Daily News called it "Philly's Deadliest Corner" after 16 shootings occurred there between February and May. Violence and drug use, like the garbage and decay visible in these photographs, are symptoms of the deeper problems that plague the neighborhood: a generational dearth of jobs and opportunity which manifests itself in poor living conditions, familial instability, and a palpable haze of hopelessness and apathy. The causes are old and deep; the solutions nuanced and not readily apparent. However, there are solutions in the short term that can make the neighborhood a cleaner and more habitable place, which can, perhaps, serve to make the ultimate solutions to the area's ills seem a little closer at hand.

Litter prevention and neighborhood beautification happens at the local level. The group Keep Philadelphia Beautiful operates a website informing residents and business owners what they can do to prevent littering and graffiti, clear vacant lots, and plant and maintain trees. Litter attracts more litter, and KPB advises residents to keep their own property clean, and to put out their trash for collection only after 7 PM on the night before collection day in cans with attached lids. Residents can contact the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to organize community-based maintenance programs to mow empty lots and remove trash, and the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network to remove graffiti.

The area is in close proximity to three schools: Middle Years Alternative School at 49th and Chestnut, West Philadelphia High School at 48th and Walnut, and West Catholic High School at 45th and Chestnut. West Catholic has several extracurricular organizations, including the Community Service Corps, the LaSallian Youth, and the National Honor Society, who perform community service projects throughout the years, and would seem to be the perfect groups to try to clean up their own backyard. West Philly High has a Gardening Club that could work to organize community gardens in vacant lots. The Philadelphia School District requires mandatory school recycling programs, and Keep Philadelphia Beautiful's website outlines ways for schools to strengthen their recycling efforts. Kids who recycle in school should be more likely to implement what they've learned when they go home.
One longer-term solution that would reduce trash and decay by improving the overall health of the area would be to reopen the 52nd Street SEPTA Regional Rail station. Closed since 1980, the station, situated in the psychological center of West Philadelphia, remains a sobering reminder of the area's more prosperous past. The station is often mentioned as part of the pipe dream to build a Schuylkill Valley Metro railroad connecting Philly to Reading in Berks County, but it could easily be opened on its own. It sits on the R5 line between 30th Street Station and Overbrook, and on the R6 between 30th Street and Wynnefield Ave, and so would serve to better connect the neighborhood to the region at large. This would benefit the area by providing residents with transportation to much-needed jobs in the suburbs, as well as providing psychological benefits. Having a regional rail station lets a community know that it is important enough that its residents should have access to other places, and other places should have access to it.

It is important to believe that no neighborhood is too far gone, that every place has a chance to come back. It is also important not to wait for the mechanisms of society, history, and economy to turn a place around. Much can be accomplished simply through the cooperation of like-minded residents, students, activists, and volunteers: the dreary, blighted places can be restored to the bright communities they deserve to be. To ultimately clean up Philadelphia we will need rail roads, factories, schools, and reforms, but much can be accomplished now simply with trees, gardens, murals, and clean streets.

For more information on Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, visit

For more information on the Pennsylvania Society, visit

For more information on the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, visit

Blog by Mike Deagler
Photos by Monica Schmidt

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

South Philadelphia


"When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves." - David Orr

Finding garbage in residential South Philadelphia is hard because the trash is much more ubiquitous. Much of the litter found in South Philadelphia is wedged between the curb and grass, caught at the bottom of fences, swept to the side with leaves. In fact, on a cold autumn night after rainfall, the trash and the leaves are practically one. But, still, none of the trash in these photos (taken along 19th St., north from Morris to Christian) is concentrated the way one finds littering in North Philadelphia. It might be that the area photographed is highly residential, establishing less "accounted-for" trash.

There might also be a difference in the dynamics of North and South Philadelphia neighborhoods -- it is this sense of community and togetherness that might prompt residents of a street to either watch where their trash blows or even clean the street themselves. Many of the houses had trash-bins and bags out in the street: the fact that this was on the whole street made me think that tomorrow might be Trash Day, but while some houses had their trash (and recycling!) in bins, some left their bags out on the street in front of their house. If this, however, is the greatest example found in a residential area of South Philadelphia, it raises interesting questions as to why these North Philadelphia residential areas -- even their parks -- remain in such ruin.

It is interesting to note that according to official rules, as presented by the South Philadelphia Communities Civic Association, placing garbage in front of the house the day before trash day could result in a ticket along with a $25 fee. Perhaps more awareness regarding this rule would deter residents from tossing their garbage outside well before trash pickup day. Additionally, mixing recyclables with regular garbage is also grounds for a ticket and fee! Primarily, residents need to be made aware of these rules; however, it is just as essential to strictly enforce these rules so that citizens have an incentive, for lack of a better word, to follow them.

Ironically, there is a sign posted on a broken down fence in the photographed area that reads, “NO DUMPING $200 FINE.” Considering the amount of trash laying around, this law is probably not strictly enforced. As with the other sites we’ve seen around Philadelphia, there is a chain reaction problem. The smallest bit of trash prompts others to leave theirs, and so on. People assume that if one person got away with leaving a bit of trash on the ground, there will be no conflict for them either. In order to promote a more permanent solution, the fine should be strictly enforced so that people fear the consequence.

The other photos show trash literally lining the streets. People have placed their trash cans on the curb waiting to be picked up the next morning, which might imply that getting garbage out of their own personal area is a priority to them. Unfortunately, the trash that is in a more communal area is not part of this weekly clean up. If every week when the trash was taken to the curb, residents could look around and clean up a little bit of the outside litter as well, great progress would be made.

Much of the trash seen in the photos taken along 19th Street consists of empty plastic bottles and wrappers. Unlike some other areas we’ve seen in past updates, there are no massive additions such as mattresses, tires, etc. Most of the trash is completely careless and not done with the distinct purpose of needing to get rid of something big. That is not to say that dumping larger trash into public places is a better alternative, but it should be recognized that the simple bags of potato chips are a lot easier to get rid of in a positive (and legal) way.

The South Philadelphia Communities Civic Association announced that single-stream recycling has also been expanded to South Philadelphia, along with West Philadelphia, which could be a reason for more controlled disposal in this area. describes single-stream recycling as a system that allows individuals to place paper fibers and containers all in one recycling bin, rather than separating bottles, newspapers, and cans from each other. The recycling processors take it upon them to make sure that though the various materials are mixed, they are used in an efficient manner. This convenient method of recycling certainly makes it simpler for residents to do their part in the green effort without much additional work.

As with any place covered in trash, there is the constant safety concern. There are clearly people living in this residential area. There are children who play outside and animals that exist in this sort of habitat as well. Just off of 19th St. on Ellsworth St. is the Lincoln Day Nursery Child Care and the Chew Playground/Recreation Center. Children are clearly an important part of the community and they certainly deserve the cleanest, safest environment possible. Cleaning up the area would promote both a safer and more appealing place to live, play, and visit.

Eco-Cycle. (Date of publication). Single-stream recycling comes to Boulder County. ECO-CYCLE. Retrieved from

South Philadelphia Communities Civic Association. 'Single Stream' recycling expands to South Philadelphia. SPCCA. Retrieved from

South Philadelphia Communities Civic Association. Representing our Neighbors from Snyder Ave. to 176 & 9th St. to Broad St. In Philadelphia, PA. SPCCA. Retrieved from

Blog written by Michelle McGowan

Photos by Tyler Antoine

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

18th Street and Norris Street

"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. ~Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

While searching Philadelphia for areas in desperate need of being cleaned, a side street right off of North Broad Street in North Philadelphia was discovered. The corner of 18th Street and Norris Street looks as if it is part of a Philadelphia landfill instead of a residential area. Just a simple clean-up can transform this contaminated, unsanitary street into a beautiful neighborhood.

The corner of 18th and Norris, while home to many residents, also has many empty patches of land in which people took it upon themselves to treat as a dumpster. There are numerous black garbage bags thrown nonchalantly in the empty plots of land along with random trash. The accumulation of garbage bags had led this area to be inviting for more trash, causing a vicious never-ending cycle resulting in a dump site. Some of this garbage is even poured into backyards diminishing the amount of space certain families have to enjoy. While 18th and Norris is predominantly a residential area, Carver High School is located only two blocks away from this intersection. Such an abundance of litter so close to a high school does not add to a favorable learning environment for the teens who attend.

In another area there is a mound of wood laid on the ground surrounded with trash. Because of the numerous residents who live next door to this field on 18th and Norris, kids may be in danger if left unattended to play in this area. It is ironic that these wooden beams, tools and materials that people usually associate with construction and rebuilding, are in this case acting in a destructive way; they are a potential danger likely filled with rusty nails and littered with more trash and glass bottles located not far from the backyards of homeowners. Perhaps the area could benefit as a whole and promote community service among the children by putting these materials to good use. The wood could potentially be reused and turned into a large portion of the supplies needed for a project. The now useless wood could be used in a father-son tree-house building event or maybe even part of a future playground or garden. This would serve the purpose of cleaning up the area while teaching kids the value of hard work through a fun and beneficial event.

Not only is the collection of trash infringing on the natural beauty of the area but it also poses as a dangerous threat to those who live nearby. The fact that all of this garbage is found on little plots of land is unsanitary for the residents to be exposed to on a daily basis. In addition, eventually the smell of the accumulated garbage will be unbearable to experience. This neglected garbage can lead to airborne illnesses, or an infestation of animals and insects possibly intruding on the daily life of the residents. Aside from the trash, this area is infested with weeds pushing up public sidewalks adding to the terrible list of hazards this area is enduring.

The neighborhood surrounding 18th and Norris would be much more enticing if the garbage is cleaned up. If carried out, this can be an easy task to pursue since the main problem is the overflow of trash that can easily be picked up. The community would also benefit from transferring the dangerous blocks of wood to a place they belong. If this area is cleaned, walking down the street will be much more aesthetically pleasing to the residents and visitors and a more attractive neighborhood will be created. This land can be used for small picnic locations in the summer months for the residents or play areas for the children. If steps are not taken to clean-up the corner of 18th Street and Norris Street, this area can eventually transform into a makeshift Philadelphia landfill, instead of a neighborhood home to many people.

Blog by Kristin Turner

Photos by Greg Stapleton

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fisher Park

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."
-Anne Frank

Our next spot of interest is a recreational area, Fisher Park, located in Olney. This dilapidated park in Northern Philadelphia is in desperate need of a clean-up. While the park was probably once a nice place to go to play sports or exercise, it is now reduced to an eyesore and a place to leave waste and trash.

Fisher’s Park was designed and created by Joseph Wharton, and donated to the city of Philadelphia in 1908. It was a “Christmas gift” to the city. The park includes basketball courts, tennis courts, a baseball field, a football field, and a swimming pool. It is apparent, however, that these facilities have not been properly maintained since it was generously given to the city.

Fisher Park is very dirty and unkempt. The park and its surrounding area are covered in litter, which ranges from small paper products to large items such as old tires and garbage bins. The basketball and tennis courts lack nets that are necessary to play and are in general dirty with trash strewn about them. The baseball field is barely recognizable because of the overgrown grass and weeds that have overtaken in infield.

Probably the worst part of Fisher Park is the swimming pool, which seems as though it has not been used it ages. It is extremely dirty and contains lots of trash. There is filthy water that sits stagnant at the bottom of the pool collecting grime. Adding even more to the poor quality of the park is the loud railroad that runs directly behind it. The park and the tracks are separated merely by a flimsy fence. It is certainly an unsafe area for children.

It becomes obvious that Fisher Park is a place unfit for leisure and recreation. It is not only unpleasing to look at, it is a safety hazard. There are various places around the park that have sharp, jagged, and corroded edges that could hurt someone, or even worse, infect them. Much of the sports equipment, for instance the football goalpost, is near collapse, which creates a hazardous situation for players.

The community of Olney would benefit greatly from an initiative to restore Fisher Park. At the very least, a clean-up of the park would reduce the risks and safety concerns that currently exist. If time and money were invested into the cleaning and continued maintenance of this valuable recreational area, it would become an asset to the community instead of an eyesore filled with trash. The Olney area will certainly get greater utility out of a clean, well kept park, as well. A polished park would give children an incentive to participate in recreational activities and could aid in keeping youth off of the streets. Older residents would have a place in their community to use at their leisure and interact with others from the area. Thus, re-establishing Fisher Park as a community hub would serve to strengthen the relationships among inhabitants of the area. Revitalizing Fisher Park is an excellent step for Philadelphians to take in order to improve the overall aesthetic and homelike vibe that the city emanates.

Blog written by Monica Schmidt
Photos by Andrew Gerdes

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ridge Avenue & Diamond Street

There aren't many things that are universally cool, and it's cool not to litter. I'd never do it."
-Matthew McConaughey
As in any city, littering continues to be an enormous yet frequently ignored detriment to Philadelphia. Perhaps the issue of dumping seems so common and trivial in comparison to more severe crimes, that it is virtually ignored. However, the consequences that ensue from this seemingly trivial practice are troubling.

The photographs in this blog post document an area of North Philadelphia near the intersection of Ridge Avenue and Diamond Street. An individual walking along this street can find various plastics, food items, jagged wooden edges, and paint cans with potentially harmful chemicals. Ironically, some of these things are directly next to signs which state that dumping is punishable by a fine. The litter in this area is not limited to simple candy bar wrappers and trash left by careless people. Entire floor rugs are rolled up and left within the overgrown weeds, making it obvious that people feel as if this space is worth nothing more than their useless, bulky garbage.

This waste can harm citizens, homes, and animals. First of all, plastics irresponsibly thrown onto the streets take years to decompose; rain could cause them to flow into surrounding drainage systems and waterways. There is plastic in the bottles and buckets that are thrown in this area - plastic that could be recycled and reused, saving us all money in the long run. The remnants of whatever was once in these containers (and whatever happens to them over time in the hot sun) can be extremely harmful to the environment and all who inhabit it. In addition to causing damage to infrastructure, animals and small children could mistakenly ingest litter and suffer damaging effects. Also, waste produces unhygienic conditions that are ideal for disease-causing insects to thrive.

Realistically, one huge cleanup of these types of areas will not solve the enormous problem of litter and pollution in Philadelphia. It is probably very easy to observe a lot completely full of trash and decide that your small contribution will not have a significant effect. If places like this North Philadelphia intersection were more regularly maintained, people may be less likely to see it as a potential place for littering. Perhaps a monthly clean-up team could be put into action so that conditions do not become severe enough that people disregard it entirely. After assessing the repercussions, it becomes obvious that awareness of the harmful effects of dumping is a crucial step toward a safer and healthier Philadelphia.

Quite obviously, cleaning up the Ridge Avenue and Diamond Street intersection would do more than create sanitary and hygienic conditions for the people and environment; it would also make this area more aesthetically pleasing! Perhaps cleaning polluted sectors such as this one would attract people to the lesser known areas of the City of Brotherly Love!

Although a common motto tells us that what is on the inside counts more than external appearance, it is imperative in this case to refine the outside before people can discover the hidden beauty of Philadelphia.

Blog written by Rajvi Patel

Photos by John Masterson