With numerous bars and restaurants, a vibrant nightlife has emerged in Old City, but an increase in crime caused concern among patrons.
As home of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, the Old City district serves as the most historic area in Philadelphia during the day, and doubles as a rowdy drinking town at night. But in light of recent acts of violence within its cobblestone streets, the city is stepping in to take back the safety of the neighborhood.
So far this year, the homicide rate in Philadelphia has reached a total of 31 victims, up 5 percent from last year. This jump in crime is forcing police to alter their patrols in various neighborhoods that were once perceived as relatively safe. Old City has made it to the top of their list following the recent fatal beating of alumnus Kevin Kless in the heart of the neighborhood.
“My initial reaction is that it is getting worse, much worse,” senior geography major Emily Caron said, who has been employed at various restaurants in Old City for the past five years.
When asked about the violence she has seen during her time spent in the neighborhood, Caron offhandedly listed several events.
“The shooting at Cebu, there was a shooting at the liquor store across the street on Second [Street], the shooting at Q [BBQ & Tequilla],” Caron said. “And fights – bad fights outside of the Plough [& the Stars].”
The employees of the neighborhood establishments aren’t the only people who have come face-to-face with violence. Senior Alex Findley, who ventures into Old City for a night out every few months, found herself in the middle of a scuffle last February when two intoxicated men were yelling obscenities at her and a friend.
When her boyfriend attempted to defend them, he was attacked and beaten.
“Police didn’t show up until at least five minutes after everything happened,” Findley said.
During the day, Old City’s historic monuments, museums, locally ran boutiques and medley of restaurants draw in tourists equipped with cameras and creased maps. But come night fall, when school lets out and work is finished for the weekend, the area east of Fifth Street from Arch to South streets flood with crowds of women in revealing dresses, and men in button-down shirts.
The history of the neighborhood becomes obsolete amongst the belligerent yelling and visual displays of intoxication.
Many late night Old City visitors, including senior risk management major Jen Lamb, blame the violence on those who go out in the neighborhood. Lamb, who’s boyfriend lives in Old City at Second and Market streets said she visits Old City often, usually once or twice a week.
“A lot of people around that area are so drunk, hot headed and ready to [fight],” Lamb said. “When bars let out at 2 a.m., there are people running recklessly in the streets.”
Although Caron agrees that some violence stems from the common Old City bar-goer, she also said she believes that some stems from the presence of surrounding neighborhood residents who see the intoxicated college student as prey.
The Philadelphia City Council and Police Department are trying to find ways to regulate the lawless acts of Old City after the sun goes down.
City Councilman Mark Squilla, who represents the first district, said he does not wish to stop those who go out to the local bars “to have a few drinks and have a good time.” But he is attempting to put a stop to “those looking to cause trouble.”
With an understanding that the majority of violence occurs after the bars close their doors at 2 a.m., Squilla said that as of the first of the year, four more policemen were added to the 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. patrolling shift to provide a heavier police presence, with hopes to rapidly move people off the streets and on their way home.
Findley said she believes that crowd control should be a main focus of patrol.
This was seen in the fatal Jan. 14 beating of Kless, 23, which occurred around 2:30 a.m. as he was attempting to hail a cab out of Old City. Kless’s argument with the cab driver was mistaken by a group of three young men as a direct insult to which they responded by beating him to death in front of the Second National Bank of the United States near Fourth and Chesnut streets.
Following this incident, Squilla said that Philadelphia City Council and police are working to start a taxi stand somewhere between the 300 and 500 blocks of Market Street heading west. Squilla said the main focus of the taxi stand would be to direct people out of the neighborhood in a “timely fashion,” and to clear the streets of large groups before violence can occur.
The institutions operating within the neighborhood would be informed about the taxi stand, and advised to direct their patrons in that direction so they can safely get into a cab and on their way home. Squilla said he strongly believes that it is important for those who go out to Old City for a good time to “respect the security we provide” to aid in the safety of themselves and others.
Lamb said she doesn’t believe this plan will change much, and that there should be more of a police presence in the neighborhood “trying to structure that part of the city.”
After being a victim of the violence of Old City, Findley said that increasing the police presence around the area when the bars are letting out would be a huge help in controlling the crowds.
Old City offers college students, as well as other city residents, the opportunity to enjoy the wonders of city life – and nightlife. And although they are considered some of the nicer areas of Philadelphia, it is still necessary to control one’s actions and be aware of surroundings.
“It doesn’t matter where you are, you need to watch your back,” Caron said.
Jenine Pilla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.