|Depression Ho! Grinding Poverty and Utter Hopelessness abound!
||[Dec. 16th, 2004|12:59 am]
The Kleptocracy of Nimrod
|||||Big Black-Bad Houses||]|
I wanted to start this entry with a metaphor, like my partner Brandon, but I don't have the right to do that yet. What I've seen is only a sliver of the lives that are touched by a decaying city everyday. I don't want to give the impression that my life is now comparable to that of one that lives in the true destitution of the city, for I have only glimpsed what they are immersed in. I speak as a traveler; I observe, but I always have the comfort of knowing my home is elsewhere, and that what I see is transient. I can flee back to my fortress if I descend to deeply.
My fortress is the university that protects this oasis of North Philadelphia through the employ of the most disproportionately large police force in the state. 150 officers of the law patrol a five block by five block radius or the city, which amounts to six cops on every block. To stand in the center of campus is to forget that you're in North Philadelphia. Even my room on the outskirts is really not in a bad spot. Aside from two corporate eyesores, its an okay view, and not a really bad area.
See, it's quaint in a way. Sorry that it's so such a terrible panorama. I had to throw it together myself. Hopefully, you get the gist of it.
I've walked about twenty blocks north (to the left of the picture), and about 7 blocks east, to where the cathedral is off in the distance. With some exceptions, as you move outside of two blocks off campus, things fall apart. The eastern sections have deteriorated to the greatest extent, with houses crumbling apart and yards of sidewalk wrenched apart. Trash is everywhere. I don't know how to make this more apparent, the ground is untouchable in some of places. Though Temple sweeps the streets where I reside, the city no longer bothers with the sectors up here. Garbage piled up on the sides of the street has likely been there months or more.
Philadelphia is immensely spread out, it at one point boasted the greatest home ownership of any city. This is within the actual limits of major urban areas, so as you can imagine that's quite a few houses. The remnants of this culture are still around, so most of the blocks stretch out of view, lined with rowhomes. Many have yards, though those are largely filled with garbage, heaps of rusted cars or other indeterminate mechanical hulks. The houses are beautiful, or at least they once were, their roofs are gilded with intricate molding, and complex tilework adorn many of the entryways. Occasionally there is an old Victorian style turret, or crumbling French gabled roof. They are not rarities either, many of the old houses are adorned in this manner; though now many lay in relative collapse. It's a shame to see such fine architecture decaying.
The people that live in these areas struggle every day with problems those as privileged as ourselves never worry about. There are virtually no commercial endeavors in these regions, and unemployment is rampant. Those who have to move about are forced to utilize Philly's expensive and inadequate transportation service (SEPTA) to get to work. Many people own cars, but that is just another expense and liability. City insurance is prohibitively expensive, and auto thefts run rampant.
This is, of course, for those who work at all, and some cannot or do not. Crack-cocaine proliferation is rampant, there are junkies and whores in all corners of the northern city. Street violence flares up periodically in more distant regions. It is relatively lawless in some areas, and descriptions comparing those areas to Sao Paulo or other third world barrios are only marginal exaggerations. The police force is less corrupt than it once was, but like most aspects of city government, they don't bother much with the ghettos. Homelessness is less of a problem than one might think, as it's generally inadvisable to be out on the street after dark, especially to sleep. Many of the bums have migrated to the center of town to find safer havens. Those that stay squat in abandoned homes, which are not difficult to come by.
In Philadelphia, all workers that live within the city limits pay a 4.5% tax on the wages they make, in addition to normal state and federal taxes. It strikes me as odd that middle class Americans so frequently complain about their hard earn dollars being taken by the government to fund welfare programs in distant cities. Meanwhile, the working poor here get their money taken to fund city programs they never see, and pay taxes for services that are denied to them. A working man living in northern Philadelphia gets about 15% of his cheque taken each week by the government, and they don't get a thing. Streets never get paved, and sidewalks never get repaired, as the city has neither the time nor money to bother with maintaining unprofitable sectors of it's territory. Water pipes in the area have had numerous problems with lead and arsenic contamination; but they too are rarely fixed until a lawsuit is filed, which is even less common than new pipes being installed. There is no police protection. There is no education here. The money that is taken gives the residents all the storm drains and public lighting they can stomach, but leaves these communities veritable orphans of the city.
Crime is an obvious problem, but, of course, the large majority of residents are honest, hard working people. There is a tangible community here, and it is likely all that holds the few strands of these streets together. Ironically, in the areas that are less destitute, where people move about and do business such as the region adjacent to where I currently reside, people are more vibrant and jovial than many of the suburban areas I've seen. People in the relatively affluent area where I hail from are easily more stoic and cold, though they have decidedly less problems in their life.
The area to the far north is colloquially called the Badlands. It's a fitting term in most respects, as the core residents of the city will never visit this frontier. The Badlands may as well not exist for most people here, including the city government. Things haven't changed there in decades, and from what I've observed, they won't improve anytime soon. The streets and avenue names are alien to many in Center City. It's a problem that either no one talks about, or no one knows how to fix. The worst bit is that it is wholly and completely unexceptional. Anyone that has even driven through the hood or read about an American city could tell you the things I've depicted. I could be describing the ghettos of dozens of cities in this country, and they have all been in this shape for decades.
We are the wealthiest nation on the planet. Why does this still go on? When do we reach the point where we admit that we need to shift the priorities of our government? Our fellow citizens are living in unconscionable conditions, and nothing is changing. My view is skewed perhaps, because I see this everyday, but one needn't have to see poverty in person to know it must be combated. The fact alone that our ghettos are compared to third world nations instead of our wealthy counterparts ought to tell us that something is wrong.
I'm sorry this update is so generic and bleeding heart, but I would feel remiss for not having mentioned this by now. I'll have something acerbic and witty later, but this has been on my mind for a while. I'd like someone to respond to this so that I can develop these thoughts more.
This is a shot towards the rest of the campus, southward. A little bit nicer.
There is an interesting Presbyterian church across the street. I think it's Byzantine architecture, but whatever it is, it's quite peculiar. The other bizarre thing about North Philly is that in the midst of every swath of desolation is a beautiful cathedral. Oh, and those aren't housing projects behind the church, those are Temple's dorms.