Near the narrow mouth of West Rockland Street sits a sight Aine Doley just can’t stand.
Up the block from her home is a 24-hour car-repair business. Out front is a sea of black rubber — tires stacked high by the half-dozen.
“This looks like a dump. It isn’t a dump,” said Doley as cars rumbled along Germantown Avenue on Tuesday.
The wayward piles represent one of the quality-of-life projects that Doley wants to tackle with the help of her Southwest Germantown neighbors and city officials through the PhillyRising Collaborative, a community-driven program aimed at improving struggling neighborhoods and empowering residents.
Aspirations and game plans
Ask Doley what else she hopes to accomplish and her eyes light up.
For now, most of her action items are tied to aesthetics: Small signals to residents and passersby that the area is home to people who care and deserves to be maintained.
“It starts there,” said Doley, who has worked tirelessly to make Rockland a block in which neighbors take pride.
There’s already been talk of working with businesses and institutions in the area to make sure they’re looking their best. Preliminary discussions have also included interest in creating gateways to the neighborhood.
Data-based initiatives are being kicked around, too. One involves compiling a full inventory of nuisance and non-compliant properties in the area so that neighbors can bring them all to the attention of the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections collectivelty rather than piecemeal.
Underlying it all, though, is a desire to unite the neighborhood behind common good.
“We all have cleanliness, safety and greening in common,” said fellow resident and civic ubiquity Allison Weiss.
How they’ll rise
Along with Doley, Weiss spearheaded the two-year effort to make PhillyRising a reality in the neighborhood.
Launched in 2010, PhillyRising, run out of the city’s Managing Director’s Office, now works with 16 neighborhoods in the city. Most have historically struggled with crime amid a dearth of grassroots leadership.
In each member community, PhillyRising acts as a liaison to better link residents to city departments and resources — from the Streets Department to the Mural Arts Program — and a collection of program partners, including AmeriCorps.
If neighbors want to clean up a vacant lot, the program helps them get rakes, gloves and garbage bags through committees like Philadelphia More Beautiful.
If neighbors want to address a nuisance bar, the program can streamline the connection to L&I or the District Attorney’s Office.
A big chunk of the program, however, is about educating residents on who and what’s out there and how they can take advantage of what’s being offered.
“It’s built and designed to have the residents lead the initiative themselves,” said Assistant Managing Director Jim Sanders, who leads the program’s Northwest Philadelphia cohort. “So, once PhillyRising no longer exists, they have the tools to keep things going. It has that sustainability built in from the beginning.”
Thursday night launch party
During Thursday’s kickoff event inside Southside Baptist Church (5058 Wayne Avenue), Doley and Weiss’ slice of Southwest Germantown will officially become the newest member of the PhillyRising family, but it differs from most of its siblings.
Residents from the program’s loosely defined footprint — Abbotsford Avenue to Germantown Avenue; Pulaski Avenue to Queen Lane — will be part of PhillyRising 2.0. This version works with neighborhoods featuring some existing level of community engagement that could still benefit from being a brighter dot on the city’s radar.
“This differs from previous PhillyRising neighborhoods, because the neighborhoods we’ve worked in thus far haven’t had that luxury of having an abundance of block captains and residents who are really willing and able to take charge of the community,” said Sanders.
Standing on Rockland Street, Doley said she thinks her swatch of the neighborhood can really benefit from PhillyRising if it can connect more residents to one another: “Not just the people who are going to community meetings constantly, but the person who maybe has never been to one.”
For her part, Weiss said she’s looking forward to a day when conversations about Southwest Germantown go beyond shootings, drugs and blight.
“I hope to shine the spotlight on the good things and multiply them and strengthen them. The more things we do on the positive, hopefully the scales will tip,” said Weiss. ” All the little things add up.”