Kensington: Coral Street is an Oasis in a Troubled Neighborhood
The scene on the 2700 block of Coral Street could be quickly mistaken as any other residential community in Philadelphia. Children ride up and down the street on their bikes, two teenage girls enjoy ice cream and a woman sits outside and greets a neighbor.
The street is worlds away, but only four blocks, from the intersection of Kensington Avenue and Somerset Street, a corner better known for the sale of illegal narcotics and prostitution than it is for a sense of community.
Regardless of the area’s bad reputation, residents of Coral Street expressed pride in their living situation and optimistic outlooks on the future of the neighborhood.
“I think [Kensington Avenue and Somerset Street] is only one aspect of the community,” said Abid Pagan, a resident of the block. “Whatever you see over there, you don’t see over here. For as long as I have been here I haven’t had any problems.”
Block captain Carlos Mitti said streets with a sense of community and resources may be the minority in the area, but it was clear to him that people do care.
“We have good relations and we’re concerned about each other,” Mitti said. “If people aren’t around for a few days, we notice. Even if we are not close friends we all still check up on each other.”
Many of those living on the block were also longtime residents who had seen the neighborhood change over the years.
Jesse Garcia, a 16-year resident of the community, noted that of recent the drug issues in the neighboring blocks had decreased due to increased police involvement and more governmental attention in the neighborhood.
Several residents still expressed reservations and concerns in their own community.
Jocelyn Rivera, a 15-year-old resident who had been living on the block for 13 years, said that she liked living on the block but that the encroaching drug issues made her feel insecure in her neighborhood.
“It’s not on this block, but it’s around the corner,” she said. “I usually don’t go out, or if I do go out I avoid the blocks that are drug related.”
Resident William Perez echoed Rivera on reservations towards the neighboring community.
“We have a 13-year-old and we don’t allow him to play down here,” Perez said. “You always see some syringes and maybe he’ll find some.”
Pride for their neighborhood and self respect has led some residents to feel frustration with the lack of support from the city.
Perez expressed anger and aggravation towards the city government for not taking the responsility to fix the problem.
“It’s the city that doesn’t do their job and you know when they do their job?” said William Perez, a resident of the block. “When it’s election time you always see them out here with their clipboards. We would love to have our streets cleaned every four months rather then every four years.”
Still, Mitti expressed optimism on the future of governmental help on the block.
“If you keep it clean, after awhile the city helps,” Mitti said.
Mitti is involved with the Somerset Neighbors for Better Living, a civic association encompassing the neighborhood. The organization focuses on long-term and short-term projects that will have a positive impact on the community.
Although the organization is still new, Mitti said members hand out fliers in the neighborhood with information about monthly meetings, in addition to coordinating clean up days around the community.
“The people that live on our block have a good relationship,” Mitti said. “We try and work together to help each other and better our situations.
Mitti said that there have definitely been changes in the community and in the past five years the neighborhood is a different place entirely.
“It’s been a big transformation,” Mitti said. “Five years ago it was scary to even walk to the end of the block. It’s better but it still needs a lot of work.”
Perez also acknowledged the changing community and chalked it up to the neighbors in the area making it happen. Perez stated that he worked on a regular basis to clean trash off the street, along with the other neighbors. He also spent his own money on painting around the block.
“Of course we care,” Perez said. “People care about their homes.”
Perez was hopeful that there would be more significant changes in the next five years.
“I’d like to see a little paint, a little cleaning, better trash trucks and better schools in the neighborhood,” Perez said.
Jesse Garcia also was optimistic about the changing neighborhood.
“I have seen a lot more cop cars patrolling, which is good. I have seen a lot more people taking care of this block,” he said. “I have seen a lot of improvement.”