The Waste Land: first part in a collaborative series called “The Abandoned City”

This story, a partnership between City Paper and PlanPhilly, is the first of a series – “The Abandoned City” – about vacant and abandoned city land, funded in part by a grant from J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.

By Isaiah Thompson and Anthony Campisi

Of the many, many terrible things that have happened to Theresa Lugo in front of her house, getting stuck in the foot with a used syringe is not, if you can believe it, the worst — although that was bad.

She was loading the kids into the car for a trip to the beach, and had put on flip-flops: “The needle went right through my heel,” she recalls. Lugo now makes regular visits to a doctor for tests. So far, they’ve come back negative. “I never touched a drug in my life,” she muses, “and now I have to deal with this.”

That’s not all she and the other residents of the 300 block of Tusculum in Kensington have had to deal with — not by a long shot. In an already-rough area (the drug-ridden neighborhood is, among other things, the murder capital of the city), their block, a small row of tidy, owner-occupied houses, stands out.

Drug dealers, junkies and prostitutes roam the street at all hours. Ambulances arrive daily, if not more often, to retrieve the living or dead bodies of people who have overdosed. The sounds of beatings — and, sometimes, pleas for help — wake residents up at night.

The people on the block can point to a single, unique source of their misery: an old, mostly defunct railroad bed that passes their houses just below street level — just, that is, out of sight, winding its way through the roughest neighborhoods in the city like a kind of dry driver of drugs, prostitution, violence, murder and crime.

Their little street happens to be a major access point, and the access couldn’t be easier: The only barrier between this wild swath and their front porches is an ancient, crumbling iron fence, wide open or just plain missing in several spots on their block alone.



Desolate to Dynamic | PlanPhilly: Planning Philadelphia’s Future

Last part in a series: APM isn’t just about reclaiming a neighborhood’s infrastructure. The non-profit development agency changes the people who come in contact with it

Photo Gallery Browse through some of APM’s most changed vacant lots

Desolate to Dynamic | PlanPhilly: Planning Philadelphia’s Future.

Council Hears How Slumlord’s Empire Came to Sit in the Hands of Philadelphia Banks

Thanks to our friends at Baltimore Slumlord Watch for the heads up on this:

Yesterday, Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on Housing and the Homeless heard from the victims of slumlord Robert Coyle, the Kenzinger whose empire of low-value homes in Kensington and Port Richmond once numbered in the hundreds — until Coyle defaulted on millions in mortgages he had borrowed from local banks.

He is also accused  of enticing “buyers” of his properties with bogus “rent-to-own” agreements — in some cases written, in others  simply verbal. Coyle is now rumored to be living in New Jersey.

Read more from Philadelphia City Paper.

What Will Become of The Divine Lorraine?

The Kingston Lounge, “Guerrilla Preservation and Urban Archaelogy” has posted a moving and informative photo journal of the history and recent dismemberment of this once-grand landmark on North Broad Street. While we strive to grapple with the shells on our blocks and in our neighborhoods, it is sometimes easy to forget that we have architectural treasures that are falling apart in our bustling commercial center as well.  Thanks, Kingston, for reminding us and for the moving pictures. From The Kingston Lounge on the Divine Lorraine Hotel –

It is unacceptable that this building, a national as well as a local landmark, is falling prey to demolition-by-neglect. While the figure of Father Divine and the nature of his movement may be controversial, it is uncontroversial that he was an important precursor to the civil rights struggle, and that the Divine Lorraine had a significant role in this history, both by association and by virtue of its status as the first integrated hotel in Philadelphia. Further, it is a remarkable building, and one of the few Hale commissions still standing. The avarice of a developer who gutted the building, “taking her for all she was worth”, and then walked away, should not be allowed to cause the eventual destruction of this treasure. I would urge all of my readers in Philadelphia to get involved on some level with the preservation of this structure. And I would urge all of my readers outside of Philadelphia to spread the word. If there is enough public outcry over this, if the right people are appropriately shamed, perhaps the Divine Lorraine stands a chance of being a jewel of Philadelphia once again.

We second Kingston.  Read the history and view the pictures of this faded glory on N. Broad Street: The Kingston Lounge: The Divine Lorraine Hotel.

Refusing to be forgotten | PlanPhilly: Planning Philadelphia’s Future

This post highlights active citizens in Queen Village who take control of turning abandoned property into productive uses.

Refusing to be forgotten | PlanPhilly: Planning Philadelphia’s Future.