Archive for April, 2012
Neighbors around 48th St and Springfield Ave have organized a town watch to help reduce crime in the area. The group is using a community-based strategy to combat crime, focusing on strengthening trust, building relationships, arming residents with knowledge, and breaking down “us versus them” mentalities about crime.
Area residents came together around a number of tragic crimes, including a robbery-rape this past September 2011 near the corner of 48th St and Springfield Ave. Over time, the 48th Street Neighbors have created a strong community by doing collective work that is proactive, positive, and collaborative.
The specific activities of the group have evolved over time, from distributing leaflets to holding gatherings to training residents on community patrolling to forming community-building committees. Last year, Patty Bulack, an active participant, was using paper leaflets to inform neighbors about crime in the neighborhood. “There were so many new people in the neighborhood who didn’t know anybody,” she explains, “and my letter under the door was just what they needed to get them to meet people and start getting involved.”
Bulack eventually created an email list to share information about crime activity. Though the list was created strictly for updates about crime, neighbors involved sought out other ways to connect to each other.
Residents started getting together in living rooms to share their stories and develop strategies. Bulack says, “What’s really basic to all of this is trust and relationship. We have to know each other. We have to trust each others’ motives. We have to be forthcoming.” As an example, Bulack shares her motivations openly: “There is a real strong spiritual base for me about this – after the rape happened, my son and I and other family members were in prayer, for the rapist, for the rape victim, for the outcome.”
While it’s impossible to determine the exact motives of everyone involved, including the more than 140 people subscribed to the listserv, the group has come together around a shared interest in moving beyond fear and vendetta. That’s not true for all town watch and community policing groups, for which the recent tragic shooting and killing of the black young man Trayvon Martin by a “town watch volunteer” in Florida is the latest in a long and controversial history.
In the face of both kinds of violence – criminal and vigilante – the 48th Street Neighbors are trying to put positive action at the forefront of their work. “We have to have hope, determination, and love at the top, so we can move forward,” Bulack explains. “And people respond to that. They don’t want fear mongering. They don’t want vendetta. They don’t want ‘hate the police.’”
Using the gatherings as a foundation, the group reached out to the police as well, inviting them to contribute their expertise and provide information as needed. Bulack added that the elements of trust and being forthcoming have been essential in building good relationships with individual police officers, who have been crucial to the group’s abilities to have and share information and develop strategies for how to work together.
48th Street Neighbors began hosting regular community patrol trainings provided by Town Watch for interested residents. In groups, these volunteers walk or bike around the neighborhood for a few hours in shifts, putting eyes on the street and promptly reporting any suspicious or criminal behavior to police. Already, crime has gone down, but Bulack admits, “It’s hard to say exactly how or why.”
It is easy to surmise that the combination of proactive and coordinated efforts of the 48th Street Neighbors, the 18th Police District, individual police officers, Penn Police, and the UCD Ambassadors has had a combined effect. The UCD Crime Update of April 11, 2012 said, “What stands out are the drops (or leveling) in crime in recent months. As we’ve stated in the past, we are extremely encouraged by these drops which we believe are a result, in part, of the stepped up public safety efforts.”
Just this past week the 48th Street Neighbors group managed to help the police apprehend a man who robbed a pedestrian at knife point. After circulating his description on the listserv, folks provided numerous calls and tips to the police, and saw him during a town watch walk, which led to a successful arrest.
In addition to responding to crime in the area, neighbors in the group continue to take their proactive approach further. Recently, they came up with a list of committees for community building, “of other ways people can be involved besides patrolling and besides hearing about crime.” Bulack explains the idea for a party committee: “We should be sponsoring town watch parties where it’s not about [crime] but it’s about getting to know each other. That we know each other, that we care about each other, that we know where each other live, and watch each other’s stuff is foundational. And we need to keep working at that. So we gotta have parties!” The group’s “Porch-hopping Party” next month celebrating the beautiful spring weather won’t be the last.
In addition to the party committee, new and expecting mothers are forming a kid play group. A prayer group has formed to pray for the victims of crime and the arrested. A gardening and beautification committee will look at planting flowers at the location where the September rape began as part of a healing process, and will also take note of overgrown shrubs and other areas of cover for people fleeing a crime scene. One group is also looking further into the use of technology in the town watch activities, including cameras, radios, and police scanners.
Finally, one committee is seeking out opportunities to address some of the root causes. Bulack explains, “Why are these young men coming to our neighborhood to do this? We don’t want to just move it along. We want to be more proactive.” With this in mind, the group is exploring volunteer opportunities with organizations working with youth, nearby and in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The various strategies and activities developed by the group have grown out of the needs of the neighborhood and the neighbors involved. While the listserv provided information to people efficiently, only community gatherings could build the relationships and trust that neighbors needed to feel connected. And the group also needed to take action in the face of neglect, to do something positive in the face of violence: the community patrols and other action committees are providing those opportunities.
Whether or not the group can prove how effective their efforts are, together, these strategies are allowing this community to be connected and proactive. “I love this neighborhood. I love the people in it. There are the coolest people in the world here, and I want them all to know each other,” Bulack says. “We have to do this together.”
48th Street Neighbors – Upcoming Events:
- Potlucks are held every first Thursday at 7 pm at Bruce Dorpalen’s house – 4716 Springfield Ave.
- Prayer Group meets every last Wednesday at 7:30 pm at Johannah Fine’s house – is 4823 Windsor ave
- Porch-Hopping Party is happening May 19, rain date June 2
- Inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org
Before last month, if you left the 46th and Market SEPTA station at night, you would likely be in for a dark walk home, past vacant properties, unlit parking lots and poorly lit homes and businesses. Indeed, the station had become infamous as a crime hot-spot. Since then, SCI-West and University City District (UCD) have finished lighting upgrades near the transit hub and the area has already seen a lower incidence of crime.
“Between this time last year and this time this year, the crimes are down dramatically,” says Steve Walsh, Director of Community and Business Services at UCD. “So far our efforts are really paying dividends.”
After participating in a LISC Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) training, SCI-West partners developed strategies to mitigate crime and opportunities for crime around the target area’s two major transit hubs: 40th and Market Streets, and 46th and Market Streets. Following this training, UCD completed a lighting study and hired a consultant to craft a plan for the improved lighting around the 46th and Market SEPTA station.
In February, UCD completed the installation of the 15 150-Watt pedestrian-level street lights along Farragut and 46th Streets, near the SEPTA station.
“It looks like daylight out there at night,” Walsh says. “But no matter how lit up it is, you’re always going to have a few folks who are not aware of their surroundings.”
The 46th and Market Transit Hub Collaboration: Combining safety and community development
In addition to pedestrian lighting improvements, UCD is working with neighborhood businesses to make sure their lights are working properly and will be installing 40 free porch lights for residents along Farragut and 46th Streets. Although some residents were hesitant at first, UCD has worked to build awareness among residents around lighting, community safety, and energy efficiency. Walsh and his colleagues explain to residents, “When you put the lights on, it looks like everyone is really caring and watching out.” And by using energy-saving CFL bulbs, each resident’s contribution to improved community safety will cost only $0.68 per month.
Furthermore, UCD has deployed “Ambassador” [LU1] deployments around 46th and Market to coordinate with the Philadelphia Police Department and the University of Pennsylvania Police, for an overall stronger police presence. Uniformed in green and yellow, Public Safety Ambassadors are unarmed officers equipped with two-way radios that serve as a highly visible deterrent to crime by riding through the neighborhood on bike.
In addition to its security and lighting improvements, UCD is also working with owners of vacant lots in the area to keep the grass cut and trash picked up. “We’re keeping the area clean,” says Walsh, “because a clean neighborhood gives the perception of a safer neighborhood.” UCD is also working with the Philadelphia Housing Authority to cut down a walled staircase to allow better visibility at one pedestrian walkway.
Other safety efforts at 46th and Market complement UCD’s focus on security and lighting. For example, The Enterprise Center (TEC) has worked to stabilize a vacant lot near the 46th Street SEPTA station with the Walnut Hill Community Farm, providing educational opportunities for area youth.
“If you have an empty lot – no one cares,” Walsh explains. “If you have a farm, like the Walnut Hill Community Farm, if you have the community coming together to take care of a large parcel of empty land and clean it up and build something, the community really takes pride in, it reduces opportunities for crimes.” Similarly, UCD is transforming a vacant property at 43rd and Market Street into a community compost center.
Philadelphia LISC and SCI West are expanding these small but significant improvements into a broader 46th and Market Transit Hub Collaboration that will catalyze further improvements, from landscaping, signage, and beautification to more intense improvements like real estate development and retail attraction.
A comprehensive community safety strategy for West Philadelphia
SCI-West’s safety efforts go beyond the 46th and Market transit hub. Partnering with UCD and area stakeholders, we are taking a comprehensive approach to community safety throughout West Philadelphia, deploying complementary strategies beyond lighting improvements and using CPTED principles. In this model, engaging the community and connecting residents with social services and better opportunities [LU2] are prioritized in addition to physical developments (like lighting) to improve community safety.
Walsh agrees that the community building efforts of organizations in West Philly are necessary components of a community safety strategy. “By doing these community activities, it gets you out to meet your neighbors . . . The more people know each other, the more they’ll watch out for each other.”
For example, The Enterprise Center’s community planning efforts in Walnut Hill, housing development plans along Market St., and support for local and minority-owned businesses all contribute to this all-inclusive approach to crime reduction.
Also related are the community planning, supportive services, education, and commercial corridor efforts of the other two SCI West partners: the People’s Emergency Center and the Partnership CDC. Their respective efforts improve West Philadelphia neighborhoods by empowering residents.
Community cleanups, including the multiple Philly Spring Clean Up events in the area on April 14, provide a great opportunity to demonstrate the comprehensive approach. “A clean neighborhood demonstrates that people are aware that they live there and they know their blocks,” explains Walsh.
Certainly, physical repairs help, too. Following the “Broken Windows” theory, which says that crime and blight correlate, SCI West and its partners are strategizing for ways to revitalize homes, storefronts, and blighted properties. The Green Block Build Collaborative, for example, looks to revitalize a block through a combination of critical home repairs, cool roof installations, tree planting, block beautification, and connecting homeowners to a host of supportive services.
“We have a great opportunity because we have such diversity here [in West Philly],” says Walsh. “‘What can we do together to help each other?’ That is a great sense of community. This is us helping us, to make where we live and work and play safe and fun.”
Detective Joseph Murray has recently received attention for using his twitter feed @TheFuzz9143 to provide over 950 followers with information about burglary, robbery, and other crime patterns in West and Southwest Philadelphia.
“By the time something happens and it comes to me, it’s done. It’s a crime. It already happened, and it’s my job is to solve it,” Murray says, explaining his frustration with the traditional reactive approach of the detective. “I don’t like to think that way. I don’t like to be reactive. I’d rather be proactive. When something comes to me, I look at it from the beginning and wonder how it could have been prevented. That’s my job too.”
The proactive strategy Murray advocates involves multiple communication tools (among them twitter, community message boards, and community meetings) and three main sources of information: how to avoid being a victim of crime, information about crime patterns, and the importance of networking and community building.
The approach is not as clear-cut as counting crime statistics. “You can never gauge how many crimes you’ve prevented, as a police officer or as a resident in your neighborhood,” Murray admits. “But, you know what? Who cares?! If in a year you can feel the difference, you can sense the difference, isn’t that good enough?”
This proactive work aligns with the comprehensive community development model of LISC’s Building Sustainable Communities strategy. Police and security can only account for one-third of the ingredients for crime: the offender. The other two thirds – the victim and the location – offer neighborhoods the opportunity to lower the probability of a crime through community-building strategies, neighborhood improvement efforts, and smart planning. Aligning the multiple strategies can create a sustainable shift in criminal activity in a neighborhood.
For a big city like Philadelphia, neighbors have to be involved in keeping their neighborhoods safe, Murray says. “If you have a neighborhood where everybody is looking out for each other, who keep the neighborhood clean, then crime is going to go down.”
What the proactive strategy leaves out is also important. Police presence and other security measures can detract from the livability of a neighborhood. “You’re not going to arrest your way out of a problem… There are a lot of things the police aren’t needed for, that the neighbors can take care of themselves,” Murray explains. “Besides, who wants the police there all the time?” And who would want to live in a neighborhood with all the trees cut down, with tons of cameras and bright lights? Giving neighbors information and a proactive role in improving their community in other ways is an essential part of a comprehensive community safety strategy.
@TheFuzz9143 went silent after the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) worked to create a policy limiting officers’ public use of social media. But after residents set up a petition to restore the feed, PPD promised it would be resotred and that they planned to replicate Murray’s model by training other officers in the department. Now Murray is back tweeting again, with the department’s blessing as @PPDJoeMurray.
Murray is excited about the department’s efforts to include social media in its official policies and strategies, and he reiterates that there is a lot more to community safety. “The human part of it is what we need. Technology doesn’t solve everything. We need people to help us. If they don’t trust us, it’s not going to happen. And sitting in an office isn’t going to help. We have to get out there and be known.”
For more information, follow @PPDJoeMurray on Twitter.
In the Mantua neighborhood, residents serving on the Safety Task Force have identified early implementation projects to discourage crime across the neighborhood.
The task force recommends creating a new and anonymous process for reporting illegal activity to help curb drug activity near the Mt Vernon Manor apartments. The process will be based on the anonymous reporting form provided by the 16th District Police department. The group also recommended implementing comprehensive, community-wide lighting improvements.
“The participation of everyone in this planning effort is second to none,” says Andrew Jenkins, who serves on the task force. Jenkins is the former president of the Mt Vernon Manor and has been an active, engaged resident in the community since 1961. “I am working with the committee to strengthen the representation and participation of the community. I want to make sure whatever we are doing for the neighborhood is comprehensive, to make sure it’s a joint effort.”
The Safety Task Force has been meeting as part of a larger We Are Mantua! planning effort in Manuta thanks to a HUD Choice Neighborhoods planning grant awarded to Mt. Vernon Manor last year.
“The purpose is for Mantua stakeholders to take a community-driven, participatory approach,” explains Donna Griffin, a community organizer for the Choice Planning Initiative. She says that using resident feedback and engaging community members will help the stakeholders develop a plan that addresses Mantua’s core issues while transforming the neighborhood.
Task Forces comprised of neighborhood stakeholders, predominantly residents,,have been meeting several times a month since February. Each task forces focuses on a neighborhood issue, such as health and wellness, youth and recreation, education, safety, physical development, and workforce development.
Residents in different task forces also identified one primary problem: the lack of information about development in Mantua. To combat this issue, residents want to improve civic engagement. They are exploring possible strategies including the creation of a resource center, community council, or a more formal civic association. As Jenkins explains, “Our job right now is documentation of the plan. What you have to do next is organize under one umbrella organization to implement everything. That’s what we need for the security of our neighborhood.”
Whatever the venue, these engaged residents are looking for an opportunity to stay involved in the implementation of a community plan and to be part of their neighborhood’s revitalization. They are committed to an inclusive, collaborative, and resident-led process. “The emphasis should be on the residents’ participation,” Jenkins says. “This should be a unified effort not an individual effort. We are working towards unity.”
Saturday, March 31, 2012 was a day of hard work, good food, and community building for the residents of the 3800 block of Aspen Street. The Green Block Build Collaborative, with support from over 300 volunteers, provided critical repairs and energy efficiency upgrades to 20 homes on the block, as well as block-wide greening and beautification, and a host of other services. The program also educated homeowners and connected them with programs and resources to make their homes healthier and more energy efficient.
This was the first of five Green Block Parties in 2012, that aim to bring a comprehensive set of services to organized blocks, helping residents transition to a cleaner, greener, healthier, and more financially stable future.
The Green Block Build Program developed from LISC’s Sustainable Communities Initiative in West Philadelphia (SCI-West), a comprehensive community development effort focused on housing, income and employment, economic opportunity, education, and health. SCI-West partners convened the Green Block Build Collaborative, a coalition of community organizations including Philadelphia LISC, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, The Partnership CDC, People’s Emergency Center, and a wide variety of other community partners. Its work is supported by Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania.
The Green Block Build strategy is to improve the health and wealth of low-income households, block-by-block, house-by-house by building on the strengths of each partner organization. Participating blocks will receive education and a suite of products and services designed to help each participant transition to a healthier life and home.
“You don’t know what this project has done for me,” said Barbara Hall captain of the 3800 block of Aspen Street on Saturday. “I had given up hope.” Several years ago, Hall paid a roofer to install a new roof on the home. The first time it rained, she realized that the roofer had taken advantage of her; the leaky roof caused significant water damage throughout the home, and her basement and kitchen were crumbling around her.
Hall, who has lived on the 3800 block of Aspen Street for 67 years, is hopeful that she will be able to pass her home to her children and grandchildren. “I want it to be a family home for another 67 years,” she said.
The Green Block Party idea, developed by the Partnership CDC, grew out of a desire to address the interrelated issues of poverty and sustainability. Low-income households in the U.S. spend 17% of income on energy bills, 10% higher than the national average. Simple home weatherization improvements can dramatically reduce this number, saving low-income families money while reducing their environmental impact. The concept has grown into the full Green Block Build Program, which takes the fundamental components of the Green Block Party, and integrates critical home repairs from Rebuilding Together Philadelphia that further help homeowners meet these goals.
Each home on the block received multiple critical repairs, energy efficiency upgrades, energy assessments, education around home health issues, and financial education. Homeowners also received a bag of local groceries from the West Philadelphia Fresh Food Hub, which visited the block on Saturday.
Other home improvements include the installation of green and cool roofs, rain barrel installation, the removal of allergy and asthma triggers such as mold and dampness, weatherization improvements, and overall greening.
The projects were also tailored to specifically meet the needs of each homeowner. For example, homeowner Charles Clemens with physical handicaps received repairs to his home to make the bathroom, backyard, and other rooms more handicap-accessible. “Financially, I would have never been able to do these repairs,” Clemens explains. “These old houses are hard to keep up. This will help me get around. But the biggest benefit is bringing the value of the property up.”
Each of the community partners in the collaborative is bringing different skills and resources to the program.”One of the key things we were aiming for with this project is showing the amount of impact that each partner organization’s services and efforts could have on a household, on a block, and on a community if they were connected and coordinated,” said Jamie Gauthier, Program Officer at Philadelphia LISC. “We have seen the benefits of collaboration in this community through our SCI-West work, and I am truly excited about the potential of this project.”
Once the renovations are complete, Drexel University will conduct an analysis of the program’s impact, which will help spread this model for improvements and shape the strategic direction of the collaborative.
The collaborative focused its efforts initially in the Mantua community to align itself with the community-driven planning efforts of We Are Mantua! Choice Planning Initiative and the People’s Emergency Center. “The neighborhood is getting better,” said Gloria Jones, a resident on the block for over 25 years. “This project came at a wonderful time. We want the children to have a better place to live.”
Overall, homeowners are positive in recognizing the benefits of different resources and services of the program. Summing up her view of the project, resident Patricia Rozier said: “These are things that can help you in the long run. If you’re part of the community and they’re building it up, you can take pride in where you are living… We are going to maintain our block, trust me.”
Read more about the Green Block Build Collaborative Partners.