Illustration by Tim Pacific
Illustration by Tim Pacific

The 1900 block of Ringgold Street appears as many other blocks in North Philadelphia. A few people stand on the corner or lean against rowhomes and talk. Many of the houses are abandoned. And the street itself is empty, cracked and jagged. In some places, the sidewalk almost seems to disappear before your eyes. Yet here, and in neighborhoods across the city, locals have grown complacent at the poor condition of their streets. Sometimes, the cracks only become noticeable when you stumble and fall, or see a stroller wheel jam up, or watch as wheelchair-bound neighbors try to navigate their way home.

A few sections of Ringgold Street are cordoned off with yellow tape, indicating that the City is at least trying to fix the sidewalks. But what can be done for a community with so many more pressing problems, in a part of town that often goes overlooked?

In Philadelphia, sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owner, not the City. According to the Philadelphia Code, that entails keeping the sidewalks “graded, curbed, paved and kept in repair at the expense of the owners of the land fronting thereon.” Additionally, anyone who owns a corner property must, if they alter the sidewalk, make sure the curb cut complies with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. (The Streets Department must do the same whenever it works on a given street.)

Homeowners might not know about all this, but for now they shouldn’t worry: The laws governing sidewalk upkeep are weakly enforced. While the Streets Department can issue notices to negligent property owners, this tends to amount to zilch. According to Philadelphia magazine, the City collected no fines from sidewalk violations in 2015.

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Dominique “Peak” Johnson is a North Philadelphia journalists and blogger. He is one of the founding editors and writers of the North Philly Metropolis, blogger for The Huffington Post, and staff writer for Al DÍA News. Click here to learn more about Peak.