Miles in their shoes

Three miles.

That’s the distance city officials have warned residents and pilgrims alike should be prepared to walk for Pope Francis’ visit Sept. 26-27 as they prepare to shut down streets and curtail SEPTA service.

Walk that distance in nearly any direction in Philadelphia, and you are likely to see both the best and worst of the city.

What will visitors who walk that distance see along the way? And what do the residents who live along the way want them to know about their neighborhood?

Those are questions made more poignant by Francis’ renewed emphasis on attention to the poor and unfortunate as he prepares to visit a place that is often described as the poorest big city in the United States.

A 3-mile walk — it takes about an hour and a half — from the parkway can take you through Chinatown to the edges of Camden, or through Rittenhouse Square through rapidly gentrifying Point Breeze.

Walk north from the parkway along 22nd Street and visitors will see tree-lined streets of the tony Fairmount neighborhood of the city. Along 19th Street, they will see new construction that has blossomed amid established neighborhoods near Temple University. And near Broad and Lehigh, the outer limits of a 3-mile walk, the visitors will see the hallmarks of the deeply-rooted urban problems that mark the worst of what America has to offer the least fortunate.

“Look around and you’ll answer your own question,” said James Burley, 33, who was getting his shiny black Jaguar XS detailed near 15th and Lehigh. “Our streets aren’t fixed. Their streets are fixed.”

Burley however, is optimistic about the Pope’s visit. He thinks it will bring attention to the neighborhood, and prompt some sort of investment in the community.

“If they give us some parks, some playgrounds, some basketball courts, that would be straight,” he said.

That’s in contrast to Anthony Williams, 58, who was sitting on his porch near 19th and Glenwood Avenue, across the street from a massive community garden on a formerly vacant lot that he said contained everything but cows. Behind the garden sits a massive abandoned factory.

“We need more jobs,” Williams said. “That’s why the city is the way it is with these young children running around. They need jobs.”

Just a few blocks away on 19th Street, Kareem Hudson, 42, sees opportunity amid the abandoned houses that are a persistent feature of the area.

“If we stop keeping each other down, maybe we can fix up some of these houses. Teach people how to rehab them so they have something for themselves,” Hudson, 42, who was grilling lunch on the sidewalk Friday.

Get closer to Temple University, and visitors will see signs of new construction everywhere. Spencer Jordan, 55, opened Jordan’s Deli on the corner of 19th and Dauphin 25 years ago. For the past few years, he’s branched out, renting tools and selling furniture to residents and students alike.

“The students, they get stuff from me, they want a little TV, or a ladder,” Jordan said.

That construction however, has brought concerns from many longtime residents that they will be displaced by rising taxes, rent and real estate prices.

Many residents said North Philly’s reputation for crime is a mostly a thing of the past.

What will pilgrims see if they walk though the area on the way to see the pope?

“It’ll be a regular summer day,” said Teekah Gardener, 33, who lives near 19th and Jefferson.

The area is peaceful.

“It’s nothing but a block party every day,” said Gardener’s friend, Deshara Hoskins.