Walking in an urban wonderland

In Cen­ter City, sight­see­ing tours usu­ally are re­served for vis­it­ors to the City of Broth­erly Love. 

But last week, city rep­res­ent­at­ives from an ar­ray of mu­ni­cip­al agen­cies des­cen­ded on Port Rich­mond for an af­ter­noon tour to seek out and ad­dress prob­lem spots.

Or­gan­ized by D. Mi­chael Black­ie, fa­cil­it­at­or for the Port Rich­mond West Com­munity Ac­tion Net­work, the Dec. 15 event at­trac­ted rep­res­ent­at­ives from the De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tions, the city’s Com­munity Life Im­prove­ment Pro­gram, New Kens­ing­ton Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Corp. and the 24th Po­lice Dis­trict. They moved through the neigh­bor­hood while keep­ing an eye out for is­sues of con­cern. 

Black­ie said he de­cided to or­gan­ize the tour after tak­ing note of such is­sues as va­cant lots and squat­ters in­hab­it­ing aban­doned prop­er­ties dur­ing his own late-night walks through the area.

ldquo;You should come out here with me at 3 a.m.,” he told oth­ers in the tour group. 

His primary mis­sion was to es­cort of­fi­cials around the neigh­bor­hood to point out prop­er­ties or situ­ations that he per­ceived as pos­sible L&I vi­ol­a­tions. Black­ie’s tour headed down Wis­hart Street and along the Con­rail-owned land that snakes back along Martha Street.

Black­ie said he be­lieves the area is plagued with prob­lem prop­er­ties. At a large va­cant lot at Martha and Lip­pin­cott streets, Black­ie turned to point to a hill where, he said, drug users of­ten hide in the waist-high weeds to get high. 

As Black­ie spoke, Fe­lix Ser­rano, who said he lived on Lip­pin­cott with his girl­friend, joined the group. Ser­rano il­lus­trated Black­ie’s con­cerns by point­ing to­ward some shad­ows mov­ing in the lot.

ldquo;Look, there they go right there … they saw you and now they are try­ing to hide,” Ser­rano said, as two men ducked through the weedy lot and moved deep­er in­to the over­growth. 

ldquo;We need to do something; there needs to be cam­er­as back here,” said Ser­rano. 

On a stretch of Lip­pin­cott Street, civic pride was no­tice­able as homes along the block — in an area where many aban­doned and shuttered homes fill the streets­cape — were dec­or­ated for the hol­i­days.

As the tour­ing city reps turned the corner from this quiet block and headed onto Am­ber Street at Bell­more Street, they were greeted by the sight of a torched and aban­doned van.

The hunk of junk had been there for more than a month, Black­ie said. And yet, while such con­cerns need to be ad­dressed, many who took part in the tour said it did little to shine new light on prob­lem prop­er­ties in Port Rich­mond. 

To L&I in­spect­or Brent Brickley, many of the is­sues he noted were em­blem­at­ic of is­sues vis­ible throughout the city. 

ldquo;This kind of thing ex­ists every­where,” he said, sug­gest­ing that the best way to tackle prob­lems like trash-littered lots or over­grown sites might be for neigh­bors to take it upon them­selves to clean up the areas.

ldquo;A lot of times, it’s the trash from the guy who lives next door or two houses down,” said Brickley. “It takes a whole com­munity. You’ve got to have full in­volve­ment.” 

As for Black­ie, he wanted the gov­ern­ment­al en­tour­age to get a closer look at the neigh­bor­hood. Too of­ten, the area is over­looked, he said, and it needs bet­ter ac­cess to city ser­vices. 

ldquo;I wanted to show them this whole area west of Ara­mingo (Av­en­ue),” said Black­ie. “It’s blighted … it’s time to shine a light on all these prop­er­ties that are un­der the shad­ow of Con­rail.” ••

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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