A sinkhole grows in Kensington

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Karen Rowan stands in front of the sinkhole outside her home on the 800 block of Cornwall Street in Kensington. (Helen Ubiñas/Daily News Staff)

KAREN ROWAN LIKES Mayor Nutter, but she'd like to push him into the sinkhole in front of her house.

Not hard, not in a way that might cause serious damage, just enough of a nudge to get him to oopsie daisy into a hole like he did during a Memorial Day parade in Bridesburg a couple years back.

After that near mayoral spill someone made a note of the offending, much smaller, hole and - boom - it was fixed, she said.

It has been hard enough to get city departments to come out to her home on the 800 block of E Cornwall Street, so Rowan isn't holding out hope that someone important is going to come walking, or tripping, down her Kensington street anytime soon.

Instead, the sinkhole that sprouted last month - 4 feet wide by 6 feet long with a depth of about 2 1/2 feet - just sits and grows while city departments play a game of Pin the Tail on the Problem.

The Rowans are reminded of who seems to get services in this city and who doesn't. (Hint: Location, location, location.)

Karen's husband, John, first reported the sinkhole to the streets department last month. It kicked the issue to Philadelphia Gas Works because of a gas-line replacement project that started last year. But when PGW said its work had nothing to do with the sinkhole, the water department entered talks,only to kick it back to PGW.

On Tuesday, a PGW worker who came to the house suggested the problem is with their sewer pipes.

Yesterday, the Water Department came by again and said it was the Rowans' responsibility.

"Everyone's just passing the buck," John Rowan said.

In the meantime, about the only action that has been taken is the yellow caution tape that police put around the hole when they were called after a van nearly got stuck in it. There was an orange cone too, but that's since moved down the block to the fire hydrant that neighbors keep opening even though the Rowans fear the water pouring into the hole will make it worse.

I don't know if it was the adagio haze of humidity that hung over the block when I stopped by this week, but things got pensive fast as Karen Rowan and I stood over the litter-filled hole and contemplated the crevasse.

It's a reminder, Rowan said, that they live on a block in a neighborhood in a part of the city that doesn't count as much as others.

"It's a different mentality when it comes to neighborhoods like ours," she said. "It's like we're a cesspool. I know we don't live in the best neighborhood, but we do what we can to keep it nice."

The couple has lived in their home for 26 years. They recently stuccoed the brick in the front and gave it a nice coat of paint. They also spent nearly $1,500 to fix the sidewalk in front of their house that they said was damaged when a huge piece of PGW machinery was parked there during gas-line repairs.

They didn't think it was fair to have to repair it themselves, but PGW wasn't rushing over to fix it and they didn't want anyone to get hurt, they said.

"Now we're afraid someone is going to get hurt in this thing," Rowan said, including her 4-year-old granddaughter who can't play outside anymore.

On my way to the Rowans, I passed by a few other pot/sinkholes - none as big as the one in front of their home but still substantial enough to drive around.

Compared to issues other city residents are forced to live with, a month-old sinkhole isn't so bad.

It could be worse. But it could also be better. It should be better, for everyone, no matter what part of the city or which VIP happens to turn his or her delicate ankle on the street.

I spend a lot of time in Philly talking to residents who think that they don't matter to people in charge. If the sinkhole or crumbling vacant home or litter-strewn lot was in Center City or Chestnut Hill or Bridesburg, it would get fixed, they tell me.

And then we spend a lot of time listening to politicians and would-be, could-be leaders talk about how every neighborhood and resident counts, vote for me, blah, blah, blah . . .

The Rowans, and their symbolic sinkhole, prove otherwise.


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