A trip down the line that gives life to Philadelphia
A tour along the Market-Frankford line becomes a spoken portrait of what this section of the transport system means for the city.
The Market-Frankford subway line is Philadelphia’s the main artery. Thousands of people are transported daily through it, from the west, east and northeast to downtown, making their operation a perfect metaphor about the beauty and the horrible life and why, despite the poverty that surrounds many sections of it, the MFL or El - as it is also known - has become in recent years a major impetus for the economic, social and cultural resurgence of the entire city.
This can partly be seen in a video produced by the Philadelphia Inquirer and the BillyPenn portal, in which both journalistic houses record tip to tip the opinions of users who daily make the noisy journey from their homes to their places of work or study.
Station by station, the voices of the passers-by create a spoken picture of the system, of what it means for their lives, the things they see and smell, their strengths and their weaknesses.
"Sometimes it smells of marijuana," says a user consulted at the Frankford Transportation Center station. A Philadelphia Community College student living in the Allegheny area says she takes it "every day to go to college". Someone in Somerset recognizes that speed is the main reason she takes it. For others as well, the line is their main way of communication with the rest of the city, there are others who hate having to climb into it.
And it’s no surprise. The elevated sections of the MFL pass over depressed neighborhoods where the noise of the rails hits and rumbles loudly on the heads of thousands of drug addicts wandering all along Kensington Avenue, remembering that down there is a latent nightmare that many try to ignore while traveling to their final destinations.
Despite the noise and shadows of the elevated line have marked for decades a sort of poverty map in the north-east of the city, it is also true that this section of the public transport system has been one of the main population growth enablers in Philadelphia since 2000.
According to another article in the Philadelphia Inquirer published last March, the Market-Frankford line has played an important role in the demographic expansion of the city in sectors that previously were not even considered habitable.
"Much of Philadelphia's resurgence has to do with the MFL. If you do not count the census figures on the population that adjoins the line, the annual rate of growth of the city reaches only 0.4 percent. If you include the population living around the EL, the annual rate rises to 1.5 percent", reads the article.
According to the same report, between 2000 and 2014, the population along the line grew by 7.4 percent, from 205,000 to 220,000 people in the period under analysis. Sectors like Fishtown, Northern Liberties and University City are some of the fastest growing areas.
This growth has had a direct impact on the revitalization of the route which, in previous decades, was even close to disappearing thanks to a mix of low usage rates, deficiencies in infrastructure and budget cuts.
However, since the beginning of the new millennium, the life of the journey began to change as business and new faces appeared in the neighborhoods.
"Twenty-two of the 28 stations have experienced an increase in users over the last 15 years. The stations with the largest increase, of 214 percent, were the Berks in Fishtown and those in the Kensington sector."
Due to their massive nature, public transport systems often provide an opportunity to immerse in the psyche of societies that inhabit large cities. In Philadelphia, the Market-Frankford line is not only a journey that physically connects the East with the West, it is also a tour of the faces that circulate besides the line and whose gestures and wrinkles allow to see the social and economic differences of a human collective that shares, without knowing, the same home.