When I initially decided to investigate what was happening to the neighborhood of Kensington, I wrote down the thesis question “Is Kensington gentrifying? Or is it too late to save this troubled place?” My phrasing in hindsight seems perhaps a bit melodramatic now that I’ve become accustomed to the once-daunting region. Now that I’m passed being spooked, I realize I’ve come to learn some valuable lessons about the definition of what is going to “save” a bad neighborhood.
Gentrification will ultimately be the savior or doom of Kensington, depending on how you look at it. The cost of changing a neighborhood for the better is that it becomes desirable to those in a higher socio-economic class. While community gardens, art programs, and increased safety are all pluses for a place like Kensington, with them will come higher rents and less available housing.
From all of my research, including public records, articles, and countless interviews, I personally believe the Kensington is definitely on the cusp of gentrification. Locals tell me they are seeing more middle-class families move in. Landlords are buying up properties left and right. Rent prices are beginning to rise. The community that once made Fishtown artsy and young is spilling into Kensington following that neighborhood’s own gentrification.
But I am no longer convinced that gentrification equals saving a neighborhood.
I mourn the loss that families will feel when the cost of living spikes and they are pushed out of their homes into more reasonably priced neighborhoods. I’ll mourn the sense of community and the collective memories of the “old” Kensington that will fade with the diaspora of its residents and the influx of other Philadelphians. Kensington has a history and character to it that cannot be found anywhere else.
But hark, a ray of light in this investigation of pre-gentrification. Though some may consider Kensington’s heyday to have ended in the 20th century, I will argue that it’s actually happening right now. In this year and the next several, Kensington will become safer and a more pleasant place to live.
Its plucky, diverse community has really come together to establish a neighborhood of people who care about where they live. Changes are being made for the better. While there are still problems with drugs, violence, and crime, it’s slowly becoming a more livable place.
This period of time is the peak, the sweet spot, right before the area is claimed by the growing middle class that has expanded north of Center City. This is the time for the people who grew up in Kensington to enjoy their neighborhood’s improvements and cherish their collective group history.
I know that in 10 years, I won’t even recognize the Kensington I grew to appreciate as I completed this senior project. But for now, I refuse to be anything but happy for the people who live there. After years of struggling to beat back the problems that plague them, they deserve this little bit of success. Even if it’s only temporary.