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Community organizing inspires Kensington Health & Wellness Corridors to improve public health

This story is part of our Overcoming ACEs series, a journalism project highlighting North Philly’s solutions to America’s childhood adversity problem. The solutions we share through this project can benefit people at risk or who have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). However, not all solutions were designed to prevent ACEs, and not everyone featured has experienced them.

The Kensington Health & Wellness Corridors along Kensington and Indiana avenues was Impact Services and NKCDC’s first response to all of the community organizing that began in 2021. 

According to NKCDC Executive Director Bill McKinney, a combination of recent community organizing efforts (such as the Somerset Station protest), direct requests from residents, and the research conducted for the nonprofits’ various neighborhood plans helped NKCDC and Impact Services recognize two key points: 

  1. Many of their efforts have centered around the Kensington Avenue corridor, between Lehigh Avenue and Tioga Street, and the Indiana Avenue corridor, between Front Street and Kensington Avenue.
  2. Planning efforts must be community-centered and trauma-informed to be effective.

“There have been a lot of different activities over the past couple of years, and I always point to the closing of Somerset Station,” said McKinney in an interview on Jan. 20. “It’s a moment when residents came together and said, ‘That ain’t gonna happen.’”

The corridors originally consisted of five “anchor projects” and five “supportive programs.” The anchor projects were drawn from Impact Services and NKCDC’s neighborhood plans, while the supportive programs were a mix of new and existing neighborhood initiatives, according to the planning documents. This later evolved into six anchor projects with the same supportive programs  

“Those six are some of the projects NKCDC and Impact have been working on together, but we have others in the works as well, and as projects from City funds come online, the list of active projects will grow,” Lowell Brown, the communications manager at NKCDC, wrote in an email on March 3.

The anchor projects include a series of pre-existing investments and coordination efforts around six community-prioritized properties for community resources, legal services, social gatherings, and housing in order to impact the health outcomes of Kensington residents. 

According to Brown, the core idea behind these anchors is to control key physical locations in a neighborhood while also converting underused or blighted properties into community centers.  

Meanwhile, the supportive projects are intended to improve the environment between these locations. 

Read more: Explaining Kensington’s $7.5 million from the opioid settlement and the ‘Kensington Plan’

Anchor Projects

Kensington Empowerment Hub 

Located at 2771 Ruth St., on the corner of Ruth and Somerset
The hub will address community needs, such as legal services and tax preparations while providing access to NKCDC’s Housing Counselors and Community Health Workers.

Tusculum Square

Located at 2713-17 Kensington Ave., on the corner of Tusculum and Kensington
NKCDC began to revitalize and activate four vacant lots through private foundation funding and community work to provide a community hub and green space that will positively influence the health outcomes and social determinants of health in the area. This project will be looking for community input in 2023.

McPherson Square

Located at 601 Indiana Ave., and is a keystone location for the overall project
The efforts around McPherson are multifaceted. The site is targeted by the City of Philadelphia’s Rebuild Initiative, and it includes scattered affordable housing sites around the library, in addition to consistent activation of the park and library through programs and events for families and local community members.

Mill on A & Indiana 

A historic mill owned by Impact Services that aims to be a mixed-use development, including housing, a community center, a gym, a health center, and a business incubator to combat historic disinvestment and help positively impact outcomes around housing.

Kensington Planning Center

Located at 3000 Kensington Ave., across the street from McPherson Square
A key property as identified by the Heart of Kensington plan, it’s being developed by NKCDC as a community center and a resource for families, neighborhood groups, entrepreneurs, and more. This project begins development in 2023.

Ruth Street Civic House

Located at 2721-69 Ruth St.
A new development consisting of 44 new, affordable, one to two bedroom apartments, developed by and located next to NKCDC, at their Orinoka Civic House offices. Apartments will be priced appropriately for the neighborhood, at 20, 40, or 50% of the Philadelphia area median income. According to Lowell Brown, NKCDC got Low Income Housing Tax Credit funding for Ruth Street Civic House after which led to it becoming another anchor project. This project begins development in 2023.   

Supportive Programs

Resource Access

The plan seeks to improve access to resources such as housing counseling, workforce development, and non-conventional loans through engagement and empowerment hubs, as well as an expansion of Impact Services’ current hub. 

Active Public Spaces and Creative Placemaking

Projects such as Tusculum Square, as well as efforts in Hope Park, and Impact Services’ partnership with the Kensington Storefront Challenge, aim to increase activations of vacant and occupied spaces around Kensington.

Produce Affordable Housing

In addition to renovations and house repairs, the plan also discusses multi-unit developments such as the Orinoka Civic House and the mill at A & Indiana, but also includes Ruth St Civic House and 1940 E. Allegheny St. 

Cleaning and Greening

This covers efforts around cleaning of the corridors and management of vacant lots as well as scattered pollinator beds, community gardens, and green spaces 

Advocacy and Capacity Building

This program will center around training programs for community health workers and connectors to bring communities together through trauma-informed engagement, as well as fostering conversations around legislation, community challenges, and community planning. 

What concepts are informing this work?

Healthy People 2030, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved March 22, from

The corridors are all centered around addressing something called the social determinants of health (SDOH). 

The SDOH is a public health framework that recognizes that the health and wellbeing of people is directly impacted by the social conditions that surround them. 

For example, factors like neighborhood safety, safe housing, transportation access, and neighborhoods have a major impact on the health, wellbeing, and quality of life outcomes for residents. 

The standard SDOH model includes the following five factors that influence health:

  • Economic stability
  • Education access and quality
  • Health care access and quality
  • Neighborhood and built environment
  • Social and community context

These conditions are unique and varied for each individual. They are also directly and negatively impacted by different systems of oppression, such as racism, sexism, and ableism. 

“We can’t just build a building and hope everything gets better, or you can’t just help a business and hope everything gets better,” said Bill McKinney. “Folks out here are dealing with a lot of different issues.”

Additionally, social determinants can have lifelong impacts on children in the form of “adverse childhood experiences” or “ACEs.” Children can be exposed to ACEs by their families and communities, such as experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect and witnessing violence in the home or community.

In high volumes, the toxic stress that results from ACEs can negatively impact children’s brains, immune systems, and hormones and alter their DNA. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), preventive measures include connecting youth to supportive adults/activities, economic support, and immediate/long-term interventions.

Kensington residents have consistently called attention to these social factors

While the phrase “social determinants of health” may be new for some Kensington residents, the concept of environments impacting residents’ quality of life is familiar. 

Residents have consistently raised concerns about these SDOH factors in community meetings, at protests, and during the data collection process for previous neighborhood plans. 

For example, in 2022, Impact Services published its Heart of Kensington Plan, which included data collected about residents’ perceptions of community, economic development, education, health and safety, and housing. Among the quality-of-life concerns that residents expressed:

  • Of all renters, 72% said they would not buy a home in the neighborhood; 74% of those said they wouldn’t buy due to crime and safety 
  • Of all residents, 60% said that safety was what they liked least about the neighborhood
  • Only 37% rated “public services” as “good” or “very good”
  • Only 21% would recommend the neighborhood to families with kids

The impact that the SDOH has on Kensington residents and those living in the surrounding neighborhoods is familiar to Philly’s public health researchers, too. 

In 2019, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University created health rankings for Philadelphia neighborhoods. They used a system of health factors (like violent crime) and outcomes (like adult asthma). 

The Kensington area north of Lehigh was ranked as one of the worst out of all 46 Philadelphia neighborhoods for both health factors and health outcomes. 

For all of these reasons, Impact Services and NKCDC will continue to highlight social determinants of health in the new neighborhood planning process for the development of Kensington north of Lehigh Avenue.

“We realized that we had some shared values, that were really focused on these concepts of health and wellness, on trauma-informed communities, but also a recognition that change was really going to be coming through addressing multiple social determinants of health,” McKinney said. 

This content is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. To learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters, visit Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.