There’s a hole in the sidewalk, dear Liza, dear Liza

What’s with the mine shaft, err I mean hole, really big hole, that swallowed the sidewalk in front of 4805 Greene St in the little village of Germantown many months ago? Set between W Rockland and Wyneva streets, situated on the formerly-safest-route to the neighborhood corner store, this sidewalk has seen better days. It’s looking a little like a sinkhole (but not) and is extremely dangerous to pedestrians. And it’s been like this for at minimum 4 months. Lots of people have seen it. Luckily, no one has fallen in it yet – at least we don’t think. Has anyone been reported missing? Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if a coal miner clambered out.

the hellmouth gets pretty deep in the back

The hole is the stuff of legend and it’s become a fun topic over on that thing called Twitter. Brian Hickey at WHYY’s NewsWorks encountered the abyss back on June 15, citing The Hellmouth Has Opened Up On A Germantown Sidewalk. Later he tweeted, “At least tomatoes grow from it.” That’s true and we actually pulled a few out and replanted them in the community garden on W Rockland. Resourceful!
Ainé took the time to craft a contemporary Twitter-poem:
Here was another fine idea that came flying through the Twitterverse from self-described “dot connector” and “creative missionary” Ed Tettemer:

This all begs the question, when there is a hole in the sidewalk, what does one do? We first called our friends at Philly 3-1-1 about the issue back in early April, and we call back to check-in every few weeks (like family).

Here’s what we reported.

The sidewalk in front of 4805 Greene St was completely dug up for a construction project, which failed. A giant hole is now there, with heaps of rubble on each side. Aside from the obvious, there are several major issues of concern here.

  1. The hole is large. We’re talking about an exposed opening of about 6ft by 8ft that drops down to a hole at least 10ft deep. The ditch is completely uncovered. Location is 1-block away from a day-care, elementary school and church. There could be a nun, with a baby and a 3rd grader down there!
  2. Sewage pipes, possibly electrical lines are completely visible.
  3. The rubble is filled with broken pieces of pipe, rocks, trash, and other good stuff.
  4. Pedestrians have been unable to use the sidewalk for months, and must step into traffic to pass or cross the street. Including kids. So sad. So sad.

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How did it happen? Construction work was being done related to the sewage line at this household, and it appears that the project was never finished, naturally. Now no one resides at the house and it’s under bank ownership. The previous owners probably lost it to foreclosure. An all-too common occurrence around here. (Note: This same construction project was actually a recurring problem. Over the past few years, this household has done this project repeatedly, only this time, the sidewalk was left dug up and now the people are gone, gone, gone.)

Who is responsible? The current owner of the property! But uh, they are a bank in Florida. A bank shouldn’t have a problem filling in the hole though, right. Banks are filled with money. Fill it with gold!

Should we wait for the property owner to resolve the issue? This is one of those cases where you just can’t wait. Aine and I have jokingly talked about filling it in ourselves…

We know from the reps over at 3-1-1 that two different L&I inspectors have worked on the issue, and that at least one of them was on-site in April 2012 to inspect. The question then is why the inspector on the scene did not gage the severity of this problem, or reroute the complaint to another agency that could address the situation immediately.

On June 24, the day of the final mass at Saint Francis of Assisi, we even showed a Philadelphia Police Officer the hole. He was chilling in his squad car parked in our vacant lot. A’hem. Mr. Police Officer couldn’t believe the hole but advised us not to bother with Philly311, and go directly to Cindy Bass, Councilwoman for the 8th District. She’s new and council people like to show what they can get done early-on, he said. We don’t agree with all that exactly, but hey, he said it! We’d rather not have to talk to members of council about holes in the sidewalk…

Philadelphia Daily News guy Dan Geringer visited the block June 21 on a blazing hot afternoon for a big story about W Rockland St’s neighborhood improvement projects, and he too peered into the hole. Dan’s on it. And so with a little ink in the paper, people are getting excited and now we’re seeing answers!

In the afternoon on July 10, the day the Philadelphia Daily News story published, two polo-shirt wearing Philadelphia Water Department guys stopped by to survey the scene. They said the PWD commissioner sent them over. The gents snapped plenty of photos, deemed the site condition imminently dangerous, and noted it would be backfilled immediately.

We heard from L&I that evening, too. The always helpful Maura Kennedy offered to connect with the Streets Department on the issue, tweeting:

Our friends in the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services sent an email the next day saying PWD, L&I and Streets were all working to fix the issue.

With so many voices in the mix, we’re confident it’ll happen. And we hope the bank that owns the house gets billed for the job.

Dan’s written about 3-1-1 before and has his own opinion. See, WHY 3-1-1 MIGHT NEED TO CALL 9-1-1: Many don’t know it exists. Yes, there are some communication problems, but 3-1-1 is continuing to improve. They’re even rolling out a mobile app soon (YAY). So we’ll keep emailing, tweeting, and calling about issues in the city. You should, too. In this case, the problem doesn’t seem to be 3-1-1. It’s all the people who have seen the hole, people with the knowledge and power to have done something about it (even the cop could have put some caution tape up), and instead chose to follow standard procedure or pass the buck. Sometimes things slip through the cracks. Or in this case, the sidewalk.

So remember folks, Dial M for Murder. Wait. No, that’s not right.

Dial 3-1-1 or 215-686-8686 (Monday – Friday, 8am-8pm)
Tweet @Philly311



  • Pingback: Growing up in a bad part of town » Joshua Spodek

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  • Hey thanks for linking to my article. But I really wanted to say that on the way to cover the mass, my photographer and I both stared at this hole for a good five minutes trying to figure out how the hell this imploded mine shaft could be allowed to exist a few dozen feet away from tons of children playing in the street. Keep fighting the good fight, I’ll put in a call to 311, for whatever that’s worth.

    • W Rockland Street

      Your article about St. Francis was great! We’re very sad about the loss of the church. W Rockland St collaborated with Father Gene and Father Tim on numerous neighborhood improvement efforts. We are so sad to see them go… We’ve heard directly from several City officials that the hole is going to be filled in, we’re just waiting now, but we feel confident the City is now on it. We just wanted to share the story behind the hole so people can understand how we got to this point. Stay tuned for updates!

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