Can Philadelphia Fix One of the Most Drug-Plagued Neighborhoods in the Country?

The vow was unequivocal: The city of Philadelphia was finally going to root out the drug trade that has long monopolized the streets of Kensington.

Around the neighborhood, where scores of people languish in the shadows of the elevated train, injecting, smoking and nodding in and out of consciousness, the expectations were far more tempered.

Antonio Alvarez, 58, surrounded by grandchildren on his porch, believed the drug market would go quiet, temporarily, and then return as it always had. Harris Steinberg, 57, standing at the counter of his auto parts shop, said that everything along Kensington Avenue — the tents, dealers and stray needles — was already moving to the neighborhood’s back streets. Elizabeth, 29, who was sitting on a mattress on the sidewalk — and, like many of those using drugs on the street, declined to give her last name — heard that mass arrests were coming for those like her. But, she said, she was stuck on a waiting list for a shelter bed.

No one except the drug dealers said that they were happy with how things were in Kensington, one of the most sprawling areas of open drug use and dealing on the East Coast. And almost no one expected things to really change.

Mayor Cherelle Parker, who took office in January, insists that this time is different. She campaigned on restoring “lawfulness,” and no neighborhood has come to symbolize disorder like Kensington, highlighted by candidates for national office as evidence of the country’s “depraved reality.”

Ms. Parker, a Democrat, talked of bringing in the National Guard (Gov. Josh Shapiro, also a Democrat and the person who would have to authorize such a deployment, was against the idea). And last month her administration released a highly-anticipated plan to “eliminate Kensington as the narcotics destination of Philadelphia.”

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