Kensington: Old Meets Young on Residential Block

On a breezy summer afternoon the stoop at the house on 2026 East Dauphin St. sits empty. Residents of this Kensington block pass by the spot, looking at it fondly and remembering who was once there.

Joseph Hoffman spent most of his adult-lifetime sitting on the stoop of his house greeting and conversing with his neighbors every afternoon. For residents who live on the block of Dauphin Street between the streets of Coral and Emerald, Hoffman was what brought the block together and almost everyone knew him.

“He was the friendliest guy here,” says block resident Demetrius Robbins. “He loved the children and he loved the block.”

Hoffman died of cancer this past December, and for all who live on the block, he was like a family member.

Edna Ford has lived in Kensington her whole life and had known Hoffman since she was a kid.

“He always had a story to tell us,” Ford says. “Whether it was a story from when we were kids or about our parents….he was a joker, a character.”

Frankie Castillo, has lived on the block since 1995. Castillo, like his neighbors, also has many memories of Hoffman.

“He was a cool guy,” he says. “He was one of the originals of the block. Now, I think there’s four original people left.”

The loss of Hoffman is just one of the changes that has recently taken place on this Kensington block. As the old meets the new, residents work daily to accept the changes taking place in their neighborhood.

Crime is one of the aspects surrounding the block that has continued to exist and constantly changes the landscape of the block.

Block captain Crystal Johnson has lived on the block for the past 16 years. She says many changes have been noticed on this block, but in terms of crime, its been the streets surrounding her block where things have slowly changed.

“There are still a lot of drug dealers fighting over their turf around here, but not as many nowadays,” she says. “Not long ago, the stuff you see in movies basically happened around here— we saw two people get shot and killed down the street.”

Jeff Carpineta has lived on the block since the mid-2000s has also noticed crime declining.

“There’s less helicopters and police wagons,” he says.  “There was a turf battle going on my corner when I moved here…but now, in my perception, it is changing. The drug economy is not as fierce.”

Demetrius Robbins’ nephews help him wash his truck.

An influx of new residents on the block, many of who are not originally from Kensington, has also been a noticed change to the block and overall neighborhood demographic.

These new neighbors, many of whom longtime residents refer to as “yuppies,” are not always welcomed. Johnson has noticed the dismay for the newcomers on her block.

“A lot of people don’t like these yuppies coming in,” she says. “This is because they come in and are getting houses, grants for lots, building cafes.  It seems to a lot us that they have a way around to getting stuff and no one knows why or how they are getting these things we aren’t.”

With the arrival of new residents, new ideas and resources have come to the block such as projects initiated by Sustainable 19125 and Philadelphia Recycle Rewards. Johnson and her neighbors have been quick to notice and appreciate the improvements on their block, and many credit the new residents for helping put these projects in place.

“If it wasn’t for the so-called ‘yuppies,’ we probably wouldn’t have the going green movement here or even know the facts that now provide us green yards and recycling bins,” says Johnson.

What almost everyone on the block agrees on is that this is a place where neighbors look out for each other, especially when it comes to the kids.

“It was always safe when I was a kid,” says Ford. “Neighbors were always watching me… and you couldn’t do anything wrong without getting snitched on. I wish more people were like that now, but I do still get the ‘snitch’ calls about my kids.”

Block captain Johnson recently opened up a “tot lot,” an empty yard on the side of her house where neighbors have collectively donated toys and playground equipment for the kids to play on. This way, kids stay out of the street and the neighbors can always have an eye on them.

“We have to keep sticking together and know that kids come first because they are our future,” says Johnson. “We have to be a good example for our kids and if we don’t then that’s what going to kill our neighborhood.”

Keeping the kids safe is priority on the block between blank and blank, and everyone seems to recognize the importance of doing their part

Resident Demetrius Robbins washes his car on a summer afternoon.

“Its why I miss the older folks, like Mr. Hoffman” says Ford.  “They really were a big part of this neighborhood, our kids were safe in their hands. You couldn’t do anything wrong while they were here, they wouldn’t put up with it….they were always like ‘no you have to take that somewhere else, you aren’t doing that around our kids.’”

Continuing to have a watchful eye over the block and its children is a challenge for the block that everyone must work together to achieve.

Resident Carpineta agrees that making the block a safe place is part of a collective effort to accomplish with his neighbors.

“The goal is to have the people unify,” Carpineta says. “This neighborhood’s where it’s at. You’re missing out. This is great here, and this is an urban life worth living.”

“Philadelphia is known for brotherly love and that’s exactly what this block is,” points out Johnson. “Everyone looks out for each other and that’s what makes this block so different.”

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