By Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Kensington — one of the toughest neighborhoods in Philadelphia — is finding a new footing. In the last year, a real estate survey shows that rentals grew by 13 percent, and that’s encouraging for neighborhood activists.
Still, it’s a community very much in transition, as evidenced by the Philadelphia Police Vice Squad on the job today with a prostitution sting.
You can hear Kensington before you see it. It’s a place built under the scaffolding of the elevated train, and in some ways, it’s defined by it, as a gritty place.
Philadelphia’s Vice Squad proved how gritty on Thursday, with the arrest of six men for patronizing prostitutes. The target was Kensington Avenue, and the corner decoys were female police officers. It was a productive sting.
“Unfortunately, this Kensington Avenue area has a reputation for prostitution, and it attracts people from all over,” says Vice Squad Sgt. Joseph Lanciano.
Six cars and $2,000 in cash became part of the tally, too.
But for people who live in Kensington, and those who envision economic development, this neighborhood is attracting more than vice.
The New Kensington Development Corporation is planting seeds of change. Leaders like Angela Taurino are encouraging residents to claim this place where they live.
One success story is a one-time vacant lot that attracted trash and is now called Kensington Gardens — for good reason.
“It’s being used by a resident who lives there for a positive purpose of growing their own food in their backyard,” says Taurino.
Vacant lots that become magnets for keeping Kensington locked in its vices are being transformed, and residents have come to believe Kensington can be more.
Lissette Villaneuva moved to the neighborhood twenty years ago.
“When I first moved here, it was a disaster,” says Villaneuva, a mother of four young children. “The community is getting involved. I love it. It’s positive. It’s something to look forward to.”
And isn’t that the point of home?
Taurino, too, has a vision: “All in all, quality of life. All in all, safety. All in all, making it a better place to live. That takes time.”