It was a quiet and unusually empty afternoon in the auditorium of the polling station at Ridge Avenue and Rector Street. Located right next to the Roxborough Memorial Hospital, volunteers and poll workers were stationed outdoors and indoors, anxiously awaiting a crowd to come in and place their votes for the 2015 primary election.
Throughout the last decade, voter turnout in Philadelphia has been in steady decline. Many poll workers have noticed this recent decline and feel that young voters need to realize the importance of their opinions and come out to vote.
“I think it’s horrible because the young people don’t realize without their vote, we will get nowhere,” said Robert Fahringer, a local poll worker and voter. “We need younger people to vote for mayors who are going to change things. The only way we are going to do that is if younger people get out there and vote.”
Although the right to vote is something not to be taken for granted, local poll workers have theories as to why people, specifically young adults, feel their vote does not matter. Sylvia Myers, who will be turning 91 next month, has been working as the judge of elections for numerous elections and has seen the decline firsthand.
Myers said their busiest time at the polls was after the workday, but she still was not encouraged by the voter turnout so far.
“I have about 470 people in my division and only 32 people have come in to vote so far,” Myers said around midday. “I think people are discouraged just by the city itself. What is there has not been good. They figure, ‘I am not going to bother. ‘”
Besides the political corruption that has tainted the city’s past, there are other elements that recently discouraged people from voting. The restrictions on when a person can vote and the lack of education provided about politics are two more reasons voters opted out of voting.
“A lot of people say ‘I can’t vote because I have work,’” said Donna Howley, a poll worker at the auditorium. “I went down to New Orleans after Katrina to gut houses in the lower 9th ward and there they voted on a Saturday. “
Chris McGuigan, a poll watcher from the 26th division, stood outside the auditorium promoting the Democratic Party.
“I don’t know if younger people understand how local elections work,” McGuigan said. “I think that is something that could be given as course in school or something.”
Keith Myers, another poll watcher from the 26th division, agreed with McGuigan but thinks there is no excuse for young people not to be at the polls.
“If they want to have a say in their future, they should get here right now,” Keith Myers said.
Colleen Roberts, a volunteer for the Republican Party, thinks this problem could be solved if young people get more involved in the voting process.
“I am not very political so I can’t even say I know half the topics, but now that I’m getting into it, it’s really fascinating,” Roberts said. “It is worth it to know what’s going on.”
Many local residents of the Roxborough neighborhood, including Annie Lawlor, also agreed that young people in the area do not realize the importance of their vote.
“People don’t understand the importance of how hard it was to get a vote and what people had to go through and still have to go through in other countries,” Lawlor said. “Your rights are so important to you, and they can be taken away so easily. No matter what, if you get to vote, it’s a very precious thing.”
“They are fighting for this privilege in Europe, and here we have it, and our people are very apathetic,” Sylvia Myers said.
– Text and Images by Chelsey Hamilton and Patrick Paul.
With the sun shining down and a light cool breeze blowing by, it was the perfect weather condition for people to come out and vote.
Despite the good weather, voter turnout was not so good in Chinatown. There are two poll sites for Chinatown residents: the Chinese Christian Church and Center at 225 N. 10th St. and Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School at 1023 Callowhill St.
By noon, there were minimal voters coming out of the first poll site and at the second site, there were even fewer.
Samuel Yeck, a registered Democrat, walked out of the Chinese Christian Church and Center in his yellow sweatshirt and off-black jeans, proudly wearing his “I voted” sticker. He stood with his cane, leaning against the brick wall and explained how there is low voter turnout due to language barriers and people’s apathy to vote.
He stressed on the importance of not telling people who to vote for, but to show them names and pictures.
Even though the turnout was low, people in the Chinatown community have already begun to recognize the importance of voting.
– Text, images and video by Yuxuan Jia and Shan Chang.
Across Fox Chase, voters were out and about before the polls opened for the 2015 mayoral primary on Tuesday at 8:00 a.m.
While Republican city council candidates such as Matt Wolfe (pictured below in suit, with Jim Kimenour, a Democratic vice chairman in the 63rd Ward) could be found making their rounds and asking whether any registered Republicans had dropped by, the answer was nearly always a negative shake of the head.
In Philadelphia, where the overwhelming majority of voters are registered Democrats, the primary is virtually more important than the general election. The winner will, in all likelihood, become the next mayor of the city.
Given that a group of community leaders, elected officials and unions in the Northeast have openly endorsed Jim Kenney for mayor, it was no surprise to learn that he was the clear favorite to win in Fox Chase.
Indeed, while there were posters and signs advertising every candidate in front of polling places, only Kenney’s name appeared on the t-shirts of virtually every volunteer stationed outside.
“He’s a tough cookie,” said Kimenour. “I wouldn’t want to go up against him in a ring.”
Time and again, voters spoke of Kenney as though he were a trusted family friend rather than a candidate. Multiple people referred to him as “Jimmy,” and expressed hope that as mayor, his chief concern would be the day-to-day lives of the people living within the city.
“We’re all in this together,” said Kimenour, in response to the occasionally held belief that the Northeast is somehow separate from the remainder of the city, simply because the Fox Chase area is more quiet and suburban.
All individuals surveyed spoke of education as something that concerned them, but it was always secondary to issues like job creation and crime prevention, implying that what residents really desire is a mayor who will allow them to maintain a certain standard of living.
“I think they’re specific to the United States,” Kimenour replied when asked whether the problems that the Northeast is currently facing were specific to that area.
Kenney’s experience as a member of city council was a major advantage among people in Fox Chase, who view his experience on the council as an indicator that he is closer to an everyman than a politician, and will act accordingly.
Fred Mari (pictured in green, above), a Democratic chairman in the 63rd Ward, did not want to complain about the current members of Philadelphia government, but did express a desire for change.
“I think there are people out there, from the city, within our ranks, who would do a better job,” Mari said.
Voters were primarily concerned with crime in Fox Chase, although the crimes they spoke of were more related to vandalism than violence.
“Some parts of the city can feel like no man’s land when you drive through them,” Mari said of the current lack of police activity. “The place where I live, one side of the street is Philadelphia county and the other is Montgomery, and some mornings I come outside and just have to clean up trash off of my street before I can go anywhere.”
That sentiment was echoed by others, who feel that because the Northeast does not have the same reputation for violent crime that other parts of the city might carry and that they are sometimes ignored when it comes time to decide where police officers should go.
“I don’t want to feel like just because I know you, or don’t know you, that I’m going to get better or worse treatment,” said Kimenour.
Jeannine Roach, a volunteer in front of Memorial Presbyterian Church on Oxford Avenue, said that her primary concerns included raising the minimum wage in the city and creating more jobs. She also mentioned a crime problem.
Although she did not mention seeing any violent crime, both Roach and other volunteers at the church were quick to rattle off a list of places in Fox Chase that were common sites for drug deals, none of which, they claim, were ever addressed by police.
Roach also expressed a desire for Kenney to be the next mayor of Philadelphia.
“He’s an Irishman” said Kimenour of Kenney. “Plus, he has the support of fireman, teachers, police, and they’re all unions who are going to need to support their mayor.”
As one of the current favorites to win the primary, Kenney may be in a position to repay that support soon.
– Text and images by Alyssa Luchette and Casey Kallen.
Above: Children play at the Tip Top Playground in Northern Liberties.
Pipeline Philly, a coworking space in Center City, is playfully stylish. The conference room overlooks City Hall and in the finished kitchen, the chrome of the espresso maker reflects the accent colored red bar stools. A weathered brown leather punching bag hangs from the ceiling and Chris Krewson, the editor of Billy Penn, encourages everyone to have some hummus before settling in for “The State of the City: A Conversation with the Pew Charitable Trusts,” an event hosted on April 7th by Billy Penn.
“There are two futures being written for Philadelphia right now. One of them is being written in Center City. The other is being written in the Northeast,” says writer and journalist Sandy Smith to the gathered crowd.
The event was planned to discuss key findings from PEW’s annual assessment of Philadelphia, with a specific focus on “what the numbers say about the city’s strengths and its challenges for millennials.”
Pipeline is painstakingly hip, but the men and women gathered for the event are slightly older than the environment would suggest. As the discussion made the quick loop from ‘What are the millennials doing here?’ to ‘Will they stay?’ it became clear that this event was about the millennials, not necessarily for them.
According to the Pew study, 54 percent of millennials consider Philadelphia “an excellent or good place to live,” which makes sense. Philadelphia was recently ranked #3 on The New York Times list of best places to visit in 2015. The population is booming, as is tourism, but things that bring tourists to Philadelphia don’t necessarily encourage young people to stay and raise families.
Smith, a Harvard grad, who occasionally writes for Hidden City Daily and Phillymag.com says, “I think something none of us are thinking about – and the planners and builders of Auto Age suburbs certainly didn’t – are neighborhoods that can accommodate people at all life stages.”
Northern Liberties, a neighborhood just outside Center City, nestled between Fishtown and Fairmount, has a population made up of between 30 and 40 percent millennials. The dog parks, restaurants, boutique shops, and small, pricey Piazza apartments are targeted at this demographic. On the corner of West Allen Street and Hope Street, is one of the neighborhood’s few child friendly areas, Tip Top playground. Children occasionally swing on the dilapidated swing set. The area is very popular, however, with dog owners, who let their dogs off leash to play fetch in the hockey rink, and jazz bands practicing for the Mummers parade.
According to Pew, “only 36 percent of millennials said they would recommend the city as a place to raise children, while 56 percent would not. With many young adults starting to raise families or thinking about doing so, this view is a not a positive sign.”
What could be a positive sign, however, is the redevelopment of certain areas of the city, aiming to make green spaces more family friendly. Logan Square, a historic area located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, recently revamped the Sister Cities Park.
On one of the first warm days on spring, small children dart through the fountains, wade in the boat pond, and form an impatient line in front of the pop-up Rita’s Water Ice stand. The Free Library of Philadelphia, only a block away, has set up an outdoor children’s library by the Logan Square Café and parents sit in the grass, reading to their children.
When, though, does this become a community, rather than a weekend attraction? This is the test that Center City desperately needs to pass. With more and more green areas cropping up, it’s clear that this development is aimed at encouraging people to put down roots. Once rooted, it may be more difficult, or less appealing, to move away.
“You think about New York City,” says Dr. Judith Stull, a sociologist who teaches at both Temple University and LaSalle University. “Manhattan is the place to be if you can afford it, but if you can’t afford it you go to Brooklyn. It’s economic in terms of how much housing can you afford. If you want a big house but you can’t afford the schooling then you go to the suburbs. On average, the suburbs do a better job.”
Safer neighborhoods, better schools, and more space rank high on the list of motiving factors to leave the city. What the millennials are asking for, although not in so many words, is a sense of community. Despite efforts within Center City to establish this sense, it’s already established farther out, in Northeast Philadelphia.
In Burlhome, Marian Fruehwald is the neighborhood cookie mom. A Girl Scout leader for the past fifteen years, she started when her oldest daughter, Kate, was in the second grade. Her husband, Franz, is a Boy Scout leader, continuing even after both of their sons were grown. They met as undergrads at LaSalle University and raised their children not far from where they grew up. Their involvement in the Scouts, as well as other aspects of the community, have kept them from moving, even after their youngest daughter left for college.
“Once in, if we run a good program, they usually stay,” Mrs. Fruehwald says of her troop. “We have six high schoolers at present. We do deal with girls who have multiple activities. It is ok to miss meetings for practices, rehearsal or homework; that is a fact of life. These days we keep in contact with the girls about what we are working on, so it is their option to keep up. Our program is girl driven. We had years where all the girls wanted to do was crafts so that is what we did. There have been times when they wanted to go places, so that is what we did. They are always interested in eating! If you do what they are interested in they stay.”
This seems to be the tact that groups and organizations in Center City are currently trying. Keeping millennials interested may keep them stationary. The Northeast has certainly seen success in this, with their longstanding religious and social affiliations rooting people to their communities.
The Fruehwalds, like their neighbors, are active members of the parish. Mr. Fruehwald is Eucharistic minister and brings communion to home-bound members of the community. He also teaches Sunday school classes at St. Cecilia’s Church, one of the largest and most successful parishes in the Northeast. While other Catholic schools are combining, St. Cecilia’s has no trouble filling pews and classrooms.
The Fruehwald’s sit in the same row every Sunday, Blessed Mother side, in front of the Baptismal font. Certain families, ones that have put all of their children through the same school and have deep ties to the area, all seem to have their own pew, unofficially reserved. Mr. Fruehwald, recognizable in his signature beret, walks their manically friendly golden retriever, Daisy, twice a day, and uses this time to keep up to date with the neighbors, people he has known for almost twenty years.
Half of the 20- to 34-year-olds questioned in a recent Pew study said that they didn’t see themselves staying in Philadelphia for more than five to ten years. According to the study, “The millennials cited job and career reasons, school and child-rearing concerns, and crime and public safety as the primary reasons for their potential departures.”
Fred Moore, a member of the Northeast Philadelphia History Network, says, “It seems pretty rare that any community in the metropolitan area stays together long enough to form a tight social fabric.” A tight social fabric is exactly what keeps people tied to the Northeast neighborhoods, and it’s something Center City is trying to replicate.
The Petco Unleashed at 2nd and Girard is having a ‘Paw Art’ event – bring your pet and use their paws and some paint to create an 8” x 10” painting. The Raven Society, an offshoot of the Free Library of Philadelphia geared towards millennials, is hosting a Rooftop Biergarten on May 18th. Indego recently put a bike station at 2nd and Germantown Avenue, part of their initiative to bring bike shares to Philadelphia. The stocky blue bikes are more likely to be spotted being ridden than parked in their stations. Log-on to Philly MeetUp and find groups for everything from pickleball enthusiasts and mommy and me outings, to a knitting group near you.
Philly MeetUp, the Raven Society, and Young Involved Professionals are only a few of the groups in Center City that are based on fostering civic and community involvement in the millennial population.
Rachel Mancini, an events coordinator at Al Dia, Philadelphia’s Latino-focused news organization, says that they are “invested in making sure that young students and individuals feel compelled to stay in Philadelphia.”
They’re gearing up to host an event called the Diversity Career Fair on Thursday, May 19th in The Hub Commerce Square. This event will feature a resume station, a LinkedIn headshot booth, and a networking luncheon. One of the scheduled speakers, Max Conaboy of YIP, will be speaking about millennial involvement in the city.
“Millennials are actually are the core of our Career Fair. We’ve been targeting college-aged students and young professionals in our outreach and promotions. All of the speakers and workshops were conceived with younger career seekers in mind. Our events – and editorial content for that matter in our newspaper AL DÍA News and our website aldianews.com – seek to capture the next generation. There is definitely a substantial movement happening here in Philadelphia to build the foundation for young people to stay and remain involved in this city,” Mancini says.
With all of this effort directed at keeping millennials in the city, could it be possible that the next wave of flight to the suburbs will be small one? Can young people be tempted to stay in the city limits?
“They never have,” says Dr. Stull. “The gentrification cycle, the movement is continuously moving outwards. You have Center City, and then you have the zone of transition – it’s changing but it hasn’t changed.”
Therein lies the problem. While great improvements have been made to the infrastructure of the city, it’s just not enough to make much of a difference. Instead of staying to fix a broken system – like the school system – millennials are choosing to move to areas that already have the established services they need.
“The public school system does a better job than private schools but what you have in the city of Philadelphia, unfortunately, is this vast underclass that’s been left behind so people don’t have faith in the public school system,” says Stull.
“You learn from history. It just reprises itself in slightly different forms, with a slightly different constellation. It’s already happened in different ways in other times. As the city boundaries change, what is suburb and what is city, by definition, changes. There’s an inevitable press to move further out, where you get space and where you get schools.”
While the Pew studies find that “the millennials’ affection for Philadelphia is conditional. And for the city, the stakes in meeting those conditions are very high.” It’s safe to say that efforts are being made. Only time will tell, however, if those efforts prove fruitful.