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.”