The past few weeks have marked a disturbing trend across Philadelphia. For no apparent reason, hundreds – if not thousands – of teenagers have congregated at busy parts of the city on weekend nights, seemingly for no reason other than to do nothing.
The last weekend of May, however, something did happen. Thousands of these kids went to South Street, allegedly brought together by a variety of social networking websites. It soon got out of hand. Media reports say that motorists were literally dragged from their cars; a taxicab was actually hijacked and wrecked into a nearby telephone pole. Later on in the evening, a convenience store on South Broad was partially looted. This weekend, the Philadelphia Police Department stepped up its vigilance on South Street. The police department enforced curfew law and will made no arrests.
It’s a good first step in order to prevent this from happening again; if the foot isn’t put down now, this will only escalate and could erupt into full-fledged rioting. But it’s not enough. The reason these kids are doing this is because, frankly, they have nothing better to do.
How many constructive outlets for fun are available for teenagers on a weekend night in the city? There’s really not a lot for a teenager to do downtown on a Friday or Saturday night. There are no big movie theaters downtown. There are very few all-ages concert venues; those that do exist cater to specific crowds. Most of the restaurants downtown are out of the price range of the average city kid. Center City is just not a friendly place for the 21 and under crowd.
And it’s even worse in the poorer neighborhoods in the city. Kids in these neighborhoods have even less options. And many of these neighborhoods are dangerous. Hanging out on the corners of North Philly can’t result in anything positive.
Many people will no-doubt refer to these kids at knuckleheads. And there is some truth to that; these kids were attracted by the thought of causing trouble on one of the city’s more fabled streets. That’s not going to end up well.
Another option is for people in this city to think of ways to give those under-21 a chance to go someplace fun. There has to be some entrepreneur out there who can figure out a way to create a cool place for kids to go to; he or she will have a captive market and would rake the dough.
Until then, South Street’s property owners and the police department are just going to have to foot the bill.