Blog Community Building collective power in Kensington

Three years ago today, residents, community groups, nonprofits, politicians, and SEPTA workers came together for a March for Safety and Solutions in response to SEPTA’s ‘indefinite closure’ of the Somerset El station in Kensington.  

Marching from the shuttered Somerset station to Allegheny station, over 200 people came together to call attention to the series of quality-of-life issues plaguing the neighborhood and the lack of community engagement surrounding the closure of the station. As a critical source of transportation for the community, the closure symbolized a long history of disinvestment and top-down decisions in Kensington

Residents and supporting organizations asked for a focus on solutions to address the underlying challenges so that the station could remain open and so that the problems would not be pushed into surrounding neighborhoods or other SEPTA stations. In a joint statement, three neighborhood CDCs noted that “this is an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to neighbors in Kensington – residents that have shown us their resilience time and again through years of hardship and unfair neglect – and make an investment in them.”  

The pressure from residents and community groups and the collaboration of that moment made change. Only two weeks after its ‘indefinite’ closure, SEPTA announced the reopening of the Somerset Station.  

Later in the summer of 2021, stakeholders throughout the community came together again and created a list of self-defined priorities to share with the City of Philadelphia. To continue a dialogue and to get efforts from the city to align with the community’s priorities, community groups reconvened six months later and reviewed and updated their list of priorities. 

As a community, we continue building on those efforts and organizing and work together to identify the community’s self-determined priorities so we can address the issues at hand with shared resources. For comprehensive, community-driven, and trauma-informed strategies, everyone needs to find their proper seat at the table. 

Commitment to participation

If community participation is a ladder, Kensington residents are often left on the lowest rungs. The ‘indefinite closure’ of the SEPTA Somerset El stop is one example in a long history of the lack of consultation from the City with residents in community planning. 

As Dr. Bill noted in an essay in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “when answers to complex problems are created in collaboration and implemented by the people with the most at stake, the solutions are sustainable for the long-term.”  

In December of 2023, the first of three reports on the Kensington neighborhood was released, which shared a history on the neighborhood and the current quality of life issues that residents marched in protest of in 2021. It also shared the results of an ongoing engagement process that saw participation from over 500 individuals who spoke with us and one another, sharing their priorities and strategies for community transformation.  

When asked to identify priorities for Kensington, community members continue to bring a lived understanding to the issues plaguing their community and are able to see not only the intersection of challenges, but the need for comprehensive strategies to address them. As part of this ongoing process, we build on these strengths and on the demands made at the March for Safety and Solutions, the priorities set at Elkins Elementary School, the ongoing engagement, and the improvements and investments made as a direct result of collective action. 

The results of this, outlined in a recently published report, are further evidence of why residents need to be centered in any community revitalization process. We’ll continue building on these efforts and community organizing, recognizing that resident voices should guide the planning, implementation, and evaluation of proposed plans and strategies for Kensington. With an engaged community, a commitment to meaningful participation from stakeholders, a shared set of data and context on the neighborhood, and resources identified by the government and nonprofit sector, we will continue to align, convene, and work to co-create solutions.  

In the coming weeks, we will release a second report, Kensington Planning Process: Alignment, that reflects feedback on the first report and alignment of the community’s self-defined priorities with other current planning efforts for Kensington.   

How you can get involved

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