Newly elected City Councilman Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.) has a message for city residents who feel embattled by neighborhood blight and decay: Your cries for help no longer will go unheard.
Squilla was in Port Richmond on Jan. 18 to attend a meeting of the civic group Port Richmond West Community Action Network (CAN), held at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Kensington, to discuss the group’s mission to rid the neighborhood of filth and vacant properties.
A week later, on Jan. 25, Squilla announced that he wants to expand those efforts citywide.
During a news conference held in Mifflin Square in South Philadelphia, Squilla outlined plans to clean and green the first district. The initiative, according to a news release from his office, “will involve a renewed partnership with city officials and a need to better educate citizens about the laws already on the books and whom to call if they have issues with city services.”
Squilla was joined in his announcement by representatives from the Department of Licenses and Inspections, Department of Parks and Recreation, Department of Streets and the Philadelphia Water Department. The representatives echoed the message of assistance, but also emphasized that help is needed as well from communities.
“This initiative shows that the city is serious about cleaning and greening these communities, citywide,” Squilla said. “We’re here because we want to partner with the neighborhoods, friends groups and all civic associations. The city of Philadelphia, along with the people standing behind me at this podium, can and will work together to make this initiative a reality.”
Decaying neighborhoods have been a longstanding problem in the city, and addressing blight is a priority for the new councilman, he said. Violent crimes have been especially prevalent lately in neighborhoods like Port Richmond and Kensington, a problem that Squilla says directly correlates to the status and appearance of these neighborhoods.
“The people in this district and in this city want to be proud of where they live,” he said. “If we have parks and playgrounds that are clean and safe, instead of vacant lots and houses, then that makes people want to move into the neighborhoods. It will help reduce crime, because it is a proven fact that where you see trash and graffiti, you see crime. If people buy into the process of cleaning these communities, then they will buy into the idea of safer neighborhoods.”
The city, however, can’t clean up every community by itself, he added. He called on community groups and civic associations to work even harder with city officials and politicians to help see results in particularly blighted areas.
Squilla said his recent attendance at the Port Richmond West CAN meeting was enlightening for him.
ldquo;That meeting was actually one of the things that helped spur this initiative on,” Squilla said. “It’s a district-wide campaign, so although we’re announcing it in South Philly, it pertains to everywhere from Center City to Port Richmond to Kensington, and all the way up the northern end as far as we can go. Trash, graffiti and vacant properties add to the blight of these neighborhoods, and that’s no stranger to the people that live there. Now, it’s time to work together to see results.”
Squilla urged residents to join neighborhood groups, or to help start them. He said his office is presenting a contest that will reward any group that applies for an activities grant with $1,000 to help with resources for neighborhood cleanup.
Residents simply have to prove they already have started cleanups of their areas — be it pictures of bags filled with cleanup trash or photos of graffiti removal.
If groups submit that documentation with their grant applications, they will be rewarded, the councilman said.
ldquo;If you’re not part of the process to help, then nobody is going to pay attention to you,” Squilla said. “If you don’t have a group, then start one. Port Richmond West CAN is a perfect example — they got involved and we’ve noticed … that’s what gives you a voice in this process. The city doesn’t have the resources to do it themselves, but we do want to work with people committed to having an organized effort to make things happen. Neighborhoods get galvanized by wanting to help — it’s contagious.” ••
Reporter Ed Morrone can be reached at Edward.firstname.lastname@example.org