When I tell people where I live, I’m usually greeted with wide eyes and a fearful and quivering: “On the other side of the tracks?”
Yes, I live in the mystical land that exists past 10th Street. I’ve lived there for more than a year now. And no, it is not Mordor, as some people seem to believe.
I used to try and defend my humble abode. I would talk about how nice my neighbors are or how I have never had a single problem dealing with anyone. But all I ever seemed to get in response was people on the verge of resting a hand on my shoulder and telling me that denial is but the first step.
So I relented. I quit. I just plain gave up. I started telling people it was about the money. I started telling people that rent was just so cheap that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Basically, I lied. Yes, the price is pretty cheap and it definitely made my decision easier. But I assure you that I don’t lay awake at night wondering what might have been if I could have scraped together a few more bucks a month. The truth is that if there was a palpable difference in safety or convenience, I would happily fork over a little bit more green to pay for it.
Not only do I reject the notion that living on the other side of Broad Street is somehow safer, I actually think the opposite is true.
When my roommate and I were viewing apartments, we ended up sitting outside of our current place for about an hour because the person who was supposed to be showing it to us — an outside realtor — completely forgot we existed. It could have been rather unpleasant. Instead, we had a nice chat with our now-neighbor about how, in his words, “everyone on this block looks out for each other.”
That point was reiterated to me the first day I moved in as well. And they wasted no time proving it. I got scolded later that week for trying to leave my apartment at night while wearing headphones.
And it doesn’t stop there. I can’t tell you how many times one of my neighbors has noticed when I’m feeling a little sick or am walking with a little bit of a limp. They’re always quick to remind me how important it is to take time to rest every once in a while — advice I have a history of not being smart enough to take. It may sound a bit overbearing, but I can attest that they are genuine about their concerns.
Earlier this month, I got stopped while trying to leave my apartment and asked which direction I was heading. One of my neighbors had heard gunshots and, while he wasn’t sure how far away they had been, he absolutely knew the direction and was not about to let me walk that way. It took me a solid minute to convince him that I would be careful.
That’s right, gunshots. I’m not trying to pretend that there are no dangers inherent to living on the other side of the tracks. But those dangers are really the sort of risks that everyone in North Philadelphia faces, not something specific to those of us inhabiting the land to the east of the Temple University Regional Rail station.
We’re not immune to the overall risks living in this part of the city provides. But the sense of community we have — something I’ve never perceived when visiting friends who reside elsewhere in the apartments surrounding Main Campus — goes far in offering some layer of protection.
On one occasion, some friends dropped me off at my apartment. As I got out of the car, one of my neighbors called me over and offered me a slice of pizza. My friends started laughing because of how weird they thought it was. Why? That pizza was delicious and I’m never too proud to turn down a free slice.
What I took from my friends thinking a congenial relationship with my neighbors was odd was that they didn’t understand the sense of community that exists on my block. But it’s exactly this sense of community that inspires such a feeling of safety and renders the stereotype of those who reside east of the tracks simply false.
I know that, as long as I am a respectful and friendly neighbor, I’m not going to be all on my own. I’m going to have an entire block looking out for my well-being and joining with me to make sure that all our homes are afforded a level of security, one which other students generalize the area as lacking. Of course I still need to maintain individual safety practices — I no longer walk while wearing headphones at night — but at least I have peace of mind provided by the efforts of my neighbors.
Zack Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ZackScott11.