For all the reinvented public spaces, baby-saving heroes, new community gardens and revitalized local businesses in Philadelphia this year, there were plenty of happenings that did not inspire optimism.
Some of those smh things were no one’s fault. The spotted lanternfly invasion, for example. Others were definitely the result of human malfunction. All were anecdotes you simply wished weren’t real.
And so, for your reminiscing pleasure — so you can be glad the year is ending — here’s a roundup of 19 Philly stories you hated to see in 2019.
1) Buh-bye Amtrak flipboard
The 30th Street Station flipboard came down in January. ? And was replaced in February by a digital one that moves in silence! D: But at least it is slated to become a permanent part of the Amtrak station’s decor.
2) Nearly eradicated disease makes a surprise comeback
Temple University had a mumps outbreak in the spring and that was super awkward because first of all, we thought that disease had been wiped out in this country (we were wrong) and second of all, were anti-vaxxers to blame? According to experts, probably not, which actually makes this worse.
3) City Council attacks food truck operators
The City waged its war on food trucks all year long. One could almost laugh at its bizarre intensity if one didn’t realize people’s livelihoods depended on their food cart businesses. There was that time Temple chose to try to finally enforce a 3-year-old rule that would require its food trucks to vacate every night. Then Northeast Philly Councilmember Brian O’Neil moved to ban food trucks from his district. After vendors testified before Council, some mobile food vendor protections were restored near Center City, but in December, City Council evicted food trucks from a section of University City.
4) Long-awaited street cleaning pilot is just dumb
The way the City of Philadelphia decided to literally leaf-blow garbage into the street for its street sweeping pilot in April so drivers didn’t have to move their cars, and spent nearly $3 million on trucks that couldn’t fit down narrow streets… I mean… you have to laugh.
5) South Philly refinery fire endangers us all
When the South Philly gas refinery, the largest and oldest on the East Coast, exploded in June, that really sucked. It woke residents up at, like, 4 a.m. first of all. The explosion released tons of deadly chemicals and teetered on the edge of seriously hazardous for several months.
6) Local journalism takes some hits
As is happening around the country, local journalism continued to be under siege. The Philadelphia Inquirer gave itself five years to turn things around, and underwent several layoffs amid a restructuring. Curbed Philly shut down amid restructuring by its parent company Vox Media. And Philly Weekly, the city’s last remaining alternative paper, is threatening to alienate its audience. There are definitely also some brights spots: Resolve Philadelphia is expanding, Spotlight PA is doing investigative work, print mags are launching, and hey — we’re still here!
7) Hundreds of Philly cops get exposed for social media posts
Let’s also talk about the hundreds of Philly cops who thought it prudent to post racist, xenophobic and otherwise offensive stuff on social media. Almost half of the officers outed in June by the Plainview Project had at least once civilian complaint lodged against them. Eventually, 72 officers were benched. At least 13 were supposed to be fired, but nine resigned before it could happen.
8) Six officers are shot and a block is traumatized
Still on the police here… remember when they may or may not have flubbed a routine search warrant in August, leading to a shoot-out that lasted as long as a work day? Multiple officers were shot, the civilian suspect is honestly probably never going to see the light of day again, homes were damaged and residents left traumatized. On the upside, miraculously, no one was killed.
9) PPD resignations and appointments are mired in controversy
When former PPD commissioner Richard Ross resigned over a lawsuit that said he retaliated against an officer with whom he’d had an affair, that something no one wanted to see. Then we got our first woman commissioner which, yay, right? But, actually, she had been disciplined for a $250,000 police brutality settlement in the 1990s and was photographed wearing a t-shirt that mocked the 1991 Rodney King police beating in Los Angeles. So really the entire situation was something you’d rather never have seen.
Don’t wanna make a whole new number on the list but honestly Philadelphia police misconduct continued to be out of control in 2019. We could literally go on. And on, and on. Oh! And on. Alrighty then. Will the Kenney admin address the issues while working on the new police contract? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
10) Spotted lanternflies… that is all
Spotted lanterflies started invading Pennsylvania in 2018, but the invasion hit crisis levels this year. The critters inspired horror films, and their poisonous defecation threatened crops across the region. The stuff of nightmares, truly.
11) Philly’s toxic schools reach a fever pitch
Toxic conditions inside Philly schools are not new, but this year it just seemed like they’re even worse than we thought. A WHYY report revealed one school continued operating after it was aware of hazardous lead levels in drinking water. Several schools shut down because of asbestos hazards including two in December alone. And a teacher revealed to the world on Good Morning America that she was diagnosed with mesothelioma after working for three decades in asbestos-ridden buildings.
12) Mike Scott does what he has to do (and it’s caught on camera)
Philly loves new Sixers power forward Mike Scott. We welcomed him with open arms, and basically gave him his own commemorative day. Then he showed up to an Eagles game in Redskins gear and had to fight a racist fan. You hated to see that.
13) The entire Eagles team lands in the hospital
The Eagles got off to a painfully slow start this year. With a number of players injured, it looked early like the Birds’ playoff chances were doomed. Fans were pained. Things have since turned around, though, and the team is on a 3-game winning streak. They battle the Giants on Sunday. So, this is one entry that went from “you hate to see it,” to, “you love to see it.”
14) Political corruption continues
The laundry list of indicted Philadelphia public officials did not slow down. Northeast Councilmember Bobby Henon was charged with corruption in January. Jeffrey Blackwell, step-grandson of Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and former Controller’s Office employee, was charged with federal corruption in September. Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson came under investigation by the FBI. The year in corruption continued with charges against former State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, who is accused of, among other things, stealing half a million dollars from her own charity. She’s one of 60 public officials arrested by Pa. AG Josh Shapiro since 2017.
15) Voting machine selection inspires mistrust
The voting machine debacle was awkward. Election security advocates flagged the machine selection process early in the year for backdoor lobbying deals. In the end, the machines seemed to work pretty well. Then 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein came back swinging and sued to block the use of the new system for the 2020 elections.
16) Philly’s late to the game with voting accessibility
Speaking of voting, Philly made all polloing locations accessible for the first time this year. Honestly, that’s something you hate to see because it’s 2019, like, how late can you be?
17) Neighborhood faves bite the dust
Some neighborhood staples closed down this year. Among them, Everybody Hits on 6th and Girard shut down abruptly this month and was a safe haven for young people in the neighborhood. West Philly’s International House, a safe space for University City international students and HQ for the BlackStar Film Festival, announced it would be closing after December. And Little Baby’s Ice Cream, known for its super unique flavor offerings, closed in November.
18) Juul gets Philly teens addicted
The whole Juul saga remains really unfortunate. It was supposed to offer a safer alternative to cigarette smoking, but folks have been suing the company for vape-related deaths. In Philly, teenagers filed a lawsuit against Juul for getting them addicted.
19) Philadelphia’s pervasive poverty persists
Finally, the ever-present and ever-expanding economic inequality in Philly specifically is something you detest gazing upon. This year the city was ranked third in the country for its enormous income gap, and census figures showed Philadelphia was actually settling into its reputation for being the poorest big city in the nation.
Here’s to more solutions for all these things — and a brighter, happier 2020 for all.