Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Driving through Port Richmond for the first time, we clutched our Google Maps print-out tightly as we tried to navigate the narrow, one-way streets of the neighborhood. We idled the car as we took photographs of abandoned buildings, quaint houses and old, stone churches and struggled to get our bearings, using Aramingo Avenue, which runs north to south through the neighborhood, and Allegheny Avenue, which intersects Aramingo Avenue near the Northeastern Hospital, as our directional guides. After e-mailing our photos to Karen Lehner, a Barthco International Inc. employee and former resident of Port Richmond, who did not recognize any of the locations, we worried that we had not been exploring Port Richmond after all, but perhaps one of the bordering neighborhoods of Fishtown, Bridesburg or Kensington. We quickly learned that Lehner, along with several other current and former Port Richmond residents, differ in their perceptions on the neighborhood’s boundaries. The fuzzy boundaries are particularly ironic because for Northeast Philadelphians residing in the adjacent neighborhoods of Port Richmond, Fishtown, Bridesburg and Kensington, one’s residence determines much more than his or her shipping address.
“It used to be you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing someone you knew,” Lehner recalls of Port Richmond. “Everybody knew who you were, they knew who your parents were, they knew who your aunts were, they knew where you were going and when you were coming home.” Lehner describes a 1970s and 1980s Port Richmond that was indeed intimate, and which prided itself on that intimacy. It also prided itself on being separate from neighboring Kensington. This distinction was reflected in the value of real estate, which was much higher if the address was considered Port Richmond than if it was considered Kensington. “My sister had a really cool, old three-story house, and it sold for $60,000, which was a lot of money for that neighborhood at that time,” Lehner explains. “But if it had been on the other side of Frankford Avenue, she could have gotten almost $200,000 for it. That’s the difference between Kensington and Port Richmond.”
As we scoured the neighborhood Friday morning for Port Richmond residents who were walking, driving, or biking to their places of work, we stopped at an intersection to interview a crossing guard. I explained the nature of our project and asked her how she arrived at her destination in the morning. “Well honey, for one thing,” she told me, “you’re in Fishtown. Go two blocks down the road and cross at the light. That’ll put you in Port Richmond.”
By Meghan Grever, Lydie Miller and Anthony Trivelli
Posted by Lydie at 6:15 PM