A school district police officer has begun transforming a Point Breeze park’s amenities.
As a coach within the Marian Anderson Recreation Center’s Urban Youth Association Developmental Basketball League, 744 S. 17th St., Jahmall Crandall loves talking hoops. As a School District of Philadelphia police officer and an entrenched Point Breeze resident, he also adores discussing hopes.
The ambitious figure has combined the two by overseeing the revitalization of the Ralph Brooks Tot Lot, 20th and Tasker streets, with alliances striving to make it a beacon for social growth.
“It seems the push to fix this spot has been in my mind forever, with last year finally giving me the wisdom to make a move,” the 37-year-old inhabitant of the 1900 block of Mountain Street said Monday at the space. “I’m looking to make it a blueprint for any urban neighborhood with at-risk youth.”
Crandall and more than 60 peers sought support Jan. 21, using the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service to plot the lot’s transformation after more than two decades of disarray. The location derives its name from the 6-year-old victim of a July 12, 1988 drug-related shooting on the 1500 block of South 20th Street for which authorities arrested, convicted and sentenced Lonnie Summers, the last element coming Sept. 21, ’89, according to court records. The incident paralyzed the child and led the City to establish the nearby location as a recreational deterrent to further neighborhood conflicts. As Crandall gazed at an adjacent building bearing a “Stop the Violence” appeal and three columns of slain community dwellers, he realized yet again how grief has become a Point Breeze constant.
“Families are not working hard enough to protect their kids,” the father of three said of his turf’s main misery. “Therefore, we’re trying to make sure they become more responsible for the safety of all of our children.”
With art, athletics and educational programs as his ammunition, Crandall founded I.AM.SP. last year, and is beginning to find local backers to maximize his 10-year relationship with the New York-based Rucker Foundation. The Empire State entity uses basketball as an intellect- and character-enhancing endeavor, with Rucker Park gaining renown as a top showcase court. Crandall wants to use the sport as an element of his master plan to engender change and has used his City connections to make his project begin to draw as much appreciation as a thrilling slam dunk or a game-winning three-point shot.
The PhillyRising Collaborative selected the stretch from 19th to 21st streets and Snyder Avenue to Reed Street as its fifth realm in September 2011, aiming to address crime, opportunities for youth engagement and architectural matters such as blighted buildings, littered alleys and vacant land. That honor led Crandall to interact with Assistant Managing Director Adé Fuqua; then-Philadelphia Youth Commission executive director and current 186th District state Rep. Jordan Harris; and 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. The middle man introduced the difference seeker to Jeffrey Tubbs, whose Urban Roots initiative enlists redevelopment projects as neighborhood boons. Pitching his ideas proved fortunate for Crandall, as the Park @ 20th plan, I.AM.SP.’s biggest venture, kicked off its research and planning phase in the fall.
“We have chances to bridge gaps and follow through on something that could be pretty groundbreaking,” Tubbs, whose five-year-old nonprofit also involves students in urban development workshops, including sessions at the South of South Neighborhood Association’s headquarters, 1901 Christian St., said. “The key is to take real issues and engaged community members and design based on our findings.”
The former resident of the 2200 block of Montrose Street has devised South Philly projects for a dozen years and deemed the Ralph Brooks undertaking his most exciting assignment because of the leaders’ receptivity to lasting alterations. He and his allies have determined crime and poverty and the lack of beautification; fresh, healthy food; homeownership; and technology imperil Point Breeze, whose population, according to Urban Roots studies in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania, contains 50.4 percent of households with residents under 18, has an 18.7 percent unemployment rate and had 54.4 percent of its housing stock built before 1939, a key factor in having 75.2 percent of owner-occupied housing units valued below $100,000.
“We’re still fine-tuning our offerings,” Tubbs, formerly with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, said of the designing and engineering components of phase two, which are scheduled to last through the winter. “However, we feel we have a winner.”
He envisions many options for the 25-year-old tract, with physical components dominating drawings of the potential fixes. The basketball court, whose rims lack nets, stands to receive a rehabilitation that could make it a feasible location for tennis clinics, afterschool programs and community events. New play equipment and perhaps a skate park would modify the tot lot, an urban farm could encourage direct management of one’s nutrition, permanent surfaces could welcome a gaming terrace, digital infrastructure and sensory networks could give input on technological awareness, a multi-use business kiosk could stimulate exposure to quality goods and public art could remind residents of the beauty of life, as the present memorial touches just on its sadness. Sidewalk and street area resurfacing could also offer an aesthetic plus, with students from neighboring schools as helpers.
“Through the Redevelopmnent Authority and the Department of Public Property, we have seven parcels,” Tubbs said, acknowledging a letter from Johnson stipulating using 1606-10 S. 20th St. as three affordable housing units. “The opportunities are enticing.”
With preliminary pricing of the aspects underway, he hopes to establish a budget soon, with fundraising slated for the spring, construction for the summer and youth programming implementation for the fall. Tubbs has tabbed I.AM.SP. as overseer of the impending programs, a designation that delights Crandall, who cannot wait to unveil Rucker Park Philadelphia, which would host national and international basketball tournaments.
“This area is near and dear to me,” the visionary, who hopes the revitalization will springboard efforts to renovate other facilities, including DiSilvestro, 1701 S. 15th St., and Donald Finnegan, 1231 S. 30th St., playgrounds, said. “I want to interact with as many people as possible to make Point Breeze an example of the benefits of collaboration. We don’t need any more names on any more walls unless those walls are to honor people.”
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.
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