CLIP and PhillyRising coordinated efforts in Dickinson Square West to improve the neighborhood.
It’s cleanup season. And last Saturday’s unseasonably warm conditions made for an ideal day for communities across South Philadelphia to take to their sidewalks, parks and alleyways to begin the long and arduous process of cleaning up after the thaw.
As neighbors emerge from the hibernation season with coordinated cleanups, they also build bridges and improve their neighborhoods by strengthening block dynamics in ways beyond picking up trash. The first event of the spring season for PhillyRising in the “Southeast” neighborhood (the other in South Philly is called Point Breeze) took place along the edge of Dickinson Square Park, Fourth and Tasker streets.
“PhillyRising targets neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia that are plagued by chronic crime and quality of life concerns, and establishes partnerships with community members to address these issues,” the interactive myPhillyRising.com online hub states. “The PhillyRising Team coordinates the actions of City agencies to help neighbors realize their vision for their community through sustainable, responsive, and cost-effective solutions.”
In other words, PhillyRising is City of Philadelphia-sponsored grassroots organizing to clean up nasty streets and help neighbors establish common goals for improvement. Amanda Finch is the Southeast neighborhood coordinator, and she was on hand to connect denizens with resources on Saturday.
“We ask the residents what they want to see happening and work to their needs and wants as opposed to coming in with an already-set agenda,” she explained. “We’re basically doing grassroots community development but with the support of the City because we have connections within all the departments.”
So she and her team are able to have heaps of trash piled high and Streets Department can be notified for immediate removal. A few industrious women attacked a trash-filled and neglected backyard that yielded 40 bags of refuse. Finch reported that the day yielded a weigh-in of 2.61 tons of debris collected and removed.
“We believe that if there’s a clean block, then it has a reflection of the crime activity,” Carmetta Dickerson, the neighborhood Town Watch representative, noted. “If it’s a clean bock, people are participating and watching out for each other. If it’s a dirty block prone to criminal activity, you end up having places where people hide drugs and they realize people aren’t paying attention.”
Seems pretty simple: clean blocks establish pride and collective concern for their upkeep and maintenance. But the cleanup effort goes beyond the cosmetic.
“We also identify potential houses that may have activities of an illegal nature,” Dickerson continued, elaborating on the social ripples of a coordinated block cleanup. “People don’t know their neighbors to their right, to their left, behind them and in front of them and people are saying ‘Oh, hey you live on this block?’”
Saturday’s efforts came from a truly collaborative effort, as Finch explained. She was a little frustrated after making a concerned effort to get a broader perspective of the neighborhood she serves.
“I kept seeing the same people over and over again,” she admitted, witnessing regular attendance at meetings by only the most eager residents. But how would she get a wider audience involved?
“I work very closely with the police, with Epic Stakeholders, and Town Watch,” she said. “I figured it would be a good idea for the four of us to get together because we all have the same goal, which is to reach out to people to hear their needs and wants and make that happen in the community. So we created a coalition.”
They handed out 150 recycling bins with the help of Community Life Improvement Programs (CLIP), which consists of “several programs and agencies dedicated to improving the appearance of neighborhoods throughout the City of Philadelphia through the eradication of blight,” according to the City’s website.
CLIP helps get tools in the hands of residents who wish to make a change, takes to task menacing vacant lots, removes undesirable graffiti and provides an outlet for non-violent offenders fulfilling due hours of service.
In addition to cleanups lead by PhillyRising and Finch, Officer Dickerson was also looking for block captains. Captains, as the latter female explained, are keen observers: “Someone who really does not mind putting themselves out there” and who will “organize to make sure that block’s a safe block.” They “sign up to be eyes and ears [and we] train them to document information.”
An effective captain may even know how to communicate unrest that goes from home to school and back.
“If it happens in the neighborhood, they bring it into the school, or if it happens in the school they bring it into the community, and we need everyone to come together to provide a positive outcome,” Dickerson divulged.
In general, what was obvious on Saturday and more obvious after talking to interested parties, is that good neighbors are willing and, in some cases, eager to spend their own unpaid off time improving their block and neighborhood.
Ted Savage, the president of the Dickinson Square West Civic Association, shared positive memories of last summer’s block parties with nearby residents Amanda Ashley, a resident of the 400 block of Greenwich Street, and Bill Arrowood, of the 300 block of Federal Street, while Arrowood dug and shoveled odd bricks and large stones from a vacant lot.
“I don’t care who owns this,” Savage said simply, making a pile of waste for the Streets Department to pick up.
Arrowood struck on a note that could be applied to the nearby Dickinson Square Park.
“No good city park is maintained by the City,” he said.
This notion speaks to the finger-pointing that often results in piled-up garbage and unresolved street trash — if strangers won’t pick up the garbage of other strangers, it will stay there.
But as Finch notes, PhillyRising is able to show residents that the City does care about neighborhood improvement. Pointing towards the renewed coalition effort that she and her community allies plan on executing, it looks like just the beginning for the stretch of Tasker to Snyder Avenue between Fourth and Sixth Streets: “It’s inspiring to the neighbors that they get that support from the city. This was our first revamped effort at a resource-sharing block-cleaning program. We’re planning on doing it month to month moving down to Snyder.”
Contact Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 117.
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