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Kensington residents want to change the image of the Philadelphia neighborhood

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When Giovannie Vilomar was looking to buy a house in Philadelphia, Kensington caught her eye. As a second-generation Puerto Rican who was born in the US, he was drawn to the neighborhood’s vibrant Puerto Rican and Latino community.

But Vilomar said that’s not what comes to mind for many people when they find out where he lives. Instead, they may associate the area with problems such as drug use, homelessness, crime and violence.

“When people think of Kensington, they only think of ‘Needle Park’ when Kensington is much bigger than that,” he said. “And then people might not seem so proud to say, ‘Hey, I’m from Kensington.’”

Sara Palmer stands outside Kensington Library
Sara Palmer is the supervisor of the Kensington Library, located next to SEPTA’s York-Dauphin Station on the Market-Frankford Line. (Nicole Leonard/WHY)

Vilomar and other community members say they want to change that narrative by elevating programs, projects and organizations that provide opportunities and resources for families and residents.

Fernando Labastida volunteers in the community for the Kensington Soccer Club, which offers after-school sports programming.

“I think it starts with … the good work that we hear about, these positive stories,” Labastida said, “and finding some kind of support in the community, something that we can all be proud of.”

Community members highlighted local programs, groups and leaders during WHYY’s Bridging Blocks discussion Wednesday at the Kensington Library. Bridging Blocks brings together neighbors to talk about important issues and events happening where they live.

Kensington residents and community members highlight local programs and services in the area during WHYY's Bridging Blocks discussion at the Kensington Library on May 22, 2024.
Kensington residents and community members highlight local programs and services in the area during WHYY’s Bridging Blocks discussion at the Kensington Library on May 22, 2024. (Nicole Leonard/WHYY)

Library Supervisor Sara Palmer said much of the good work done in the community doesn’t get enough attention. For example, Palmer pointed to McPherson Square Library’s teen job fairs, storytelling, music and drum programs, and ongoing workshops and classes.

The library recently partnered with other branches and Interfaith Philadelphia to produce a bilingual community cookbook.

“It’s been thriving all along,” Palmer said. “Even during the pandemic, he has gone above and beyond to serve.”