Chapter I: North Philly Badlands
This chapter details some of my experiences in North Philadelphia—the vicinity of some of the most treacherous hoods in the city. The time periods span from my juvenile years, to my early ‘20s—after my stint in the Air Force. Later during the ‘70s, the drug culture has become rampant as in other inner cities.
The North Side
North Philly is a district that I’ve always considered to be where the lower class populous of the city resided. Similar to West Philly, after the second big war, white folks began migrating out of the area—mainly to Northeast Philly. In turn, the influx of black families that filled vacant housing prompted many remaining whites to join the mass exodus due to devalued property values.
The following is more information about this part of the city that has been recently dubbed “The Badlands”:
Like most industrial cities, Philadelphia suffered economic decline following the deportation of industry to developing countries and has suffered as a result. The Philadelphia Badlands contain a diverse mix of ethnicities, including Irish Americans, African-Americans, and Puerto Ricans. The nickname “Badlands” may also refer to the high gang area of the Irish Mob and/or for African-American/Puerto Rican street gangs
The area had been labeled a slum due to widespread poverty. To correct this eyesore, over a decade ago the city sold these houses for $1, just to get people to fix them up. Similar to the Harlem nascent real-estate boom, the blight has improved but the drug activity and murders continue.
No doubt the scramble to gain and hold onto crack turf has been the prime motivation. According to a comment by Ted Koppel of ABC, “It is the worst of what happens when the drug trade takes over a house, and then a street, and then a block. It’s as invasive as crabgrass, as destructive as cancer.”
Due to the densely packed residents, the neighborhood always had a reputation of being tough. Boys who moved to West Philly with their families were known to make an impression as soon as they arrived on the block. They had a reputation of being rough and ready, and they were bent on maintaining their rep. Most of these young thugs would challenge local gang members and sometimes prevail; thus, they became the leaders, or at least lieutenants. The ones that weren’t proficient sluggers would come on the scene with weapons, such as knives and guns—they were more proficient as dirty street fighters. No way were they going to be bullied on the way home from school. It got to the point that many new arrivals weren’t even challenged; the local guys would just stand-down, whenever they heard they were from North Philly.
The internationally renowned comedian, Bill Cosby, was raised in North Philly; and he based the creation of his animated characters, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, on this district of the city. As noted in the cartoons: the gang always gathered in a North Philadelphia junkyard; an obvious indication of ghetto blight.