Photo Credit: Peter Morgan | AP Photo
There’s no historical marker at 6221 Osage Avenue to tell the casual passersby what happened here in 1985 — that the Philadelphia Police Department dropped a bomb on a houseful of black liberationists who called themselves MOVE, that 11 people were killed, that the city ultimately decided to “let the fire burn,” and that more than 50 homes were destroyed in the ensuing blaze.
But if you walk the block today, it’s still clear that something went wrong. Half the homes on the 6200 blocks of Osage Avenue and Pine Street are vacant; front doors are covered with slabs of plywood and padlocked. The fire stopped burning 30 years ago, but the wounds have never healed.
It’s not that the city didn’t try to fix it. For the families who happened to live nearby, whose homes were collateral damage in the bombing, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority moved fast. It took the properties by eminent domain and hired a developer to build new houses. But the developer didn’t do a good job. Fifteen years later, when it was clear that the homes all had the same problems, after trying to do repairs, PRA sought to take the houses back again. Most of the residents took the money the PRA offered, cut their losses, and left. Only a handful stayed.
Since then, for the last decade and a half, nothing much has happened there. The vacant rowhomes have sat empty, eroding from exposure and time, reminding their neighbors every day of one of the most violent nights in the history of the city. The broken development isn’t a historical marker, but it tells the story in painful detail nonetheless.
“You have the underlying set of traumatic events, and then you layer on top of that the fact that the investment itself was shoddy,” says Amy Laura Cahn, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center. “There was not enough investment. Basically, the community was not worth it.”
Now the Redevelopment Authority is trying to get it right. Last week, it announced that it’s looking for a developer to come in and fix 36 empty homes that will then be sold to private owners.
“Because some of the PRA-owned properties abut owner-occupied units, developers should be prepared to make every effort to address safety issues and prevent work that would adversely affect occupied properties,” the Authority wrote in the Request for Proposals. “Developer should also be respectful of the area’s challenged history and the trauma that adjacent residents may have experienced.” Read more »