Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Dec 16, 2012

History of Liddonfield Involves Key Public Figures in Philly

by Rosemary Reeves

Liddonfield 1960's
 “Why should someone like me care about the history of people who destroy things and ruin neighborhoods?”

This was a question asked of me during one of my excursions around northeast Philadelphia, promoting awareness of the history of Liddonfield Homes Public Housing Development.  Public housing is often viewed as one of the major causes of the cycle of urban blight and neighborhood ruin.  Because of this, many people feel their lives have been negatively affected in one way or the other by a public housing development in their neighborhood and therefore, public housing does not deserve a place in history.

Yet ordinary citizens tend to have many unanswered questions about housing projects causing neighborhood ruin and how this change occurs over time.   More importantly, they have questions as to  how this cycle can be halted.  Public housing affects taxes, real estate appraisal and development of homes in the area, small businesses and neighborhood schools and even the local police force.  In other words, it has an impact on almost every aspect of a neighborhood’s local economy, influencing the quality of life of all who live within its radius.

That is one of the many reasons why public housing history is relevant to you.  Only by examining the past can we understand what really happened in the story of America’s ideal neighborhoods in decline.  Once, public housing developments were safe, clean and well-maintained.  Where did these golden days of public housing go?  Was it really just a matter of people who “destroy things and ruin neighborhoods?”   What is it like to live in a housing project?  

Before there were housing projects, poor Americans endured filthy conditions in slums and tenements which attracted rats and other vermin, posing a danger to public health.  In 1937, the department of Housing and Urban Development was created to eradicate the poverty problem by building safe, clean, affordable housing for the nation’s poor.  How did such a patriotic and humane initiative go so wrong?  

What Makes Liddonfield Homes Public Housing Development part of Northeast Philadelphia History?

Built during the Eisenhower Administration, Liddonfield  Homes Public Housing Development was originally hailed as a model of public housing excellence, having won a NAHROS award for “imaginative design.”  The low-rise housing project had lawns for children to play upon, a recreation center and a sports field.  Some of the people who originally lived there were WWII veterans and their families.

Liddonfield 2010
However, by the late 1980’s Liddonfield had earned a notorious reputation.  Drug activity, prostitution, bullets flying in the late hours of the night and murder in the housing project involved many key public figures in Northeast Philadelphia like Police Commissioner Willie Williams, who tried to combat criminal activity in the project with an understaffed police force; Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, who faced over three hundred protesters and over 100 law abiding Liddonfield tenants “screaming and shouting” for something to be done about rampant drugs in Liddonfield;  beleaguered Philadelphia Housing Authority Executive Director, Greg Kern and Senator John Heinz, who in June of 1989 had to avoid stepping on a used needle while visiting the project.  Were there warning signs from as early as the 1950’s that we did not heed?  More importantly, could it have been prevented?  

From the public officials who attempted to control the problems at Liddonfield and the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association, to the Liddonfield tenants who formed their own close-knit community and the homeowner who laid a napkin filled with used needles at Commissioner Williams feet, the history of Liddonfield is the story of neighborhoods across America.   

There will be a Liddonfield History Exhibit at the Historical Society of Frankford in the Fall.  Details will be available in future posts.  

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