Mt. Airy residents discuss past, present and future of the neighborhood

 A scene from the neighborhood's Walk 'n' Talk event on June 1. (Courtesy of John  Nordlof)

A scene from the neighborhood's Walk 'n' Talk event on June 1. (Courtesy of John Nordlof)

Generally when more than 20 residents gather in a home to discuss the state of their neighborhood it’s because there’s a problem – crime, blight, the local schools or the like– that needs to be addressed.

But a get together in a living room on the 100 block of West Mt. Airy Avenue last week took a very different tack.

The end-of-season meeting of the Mt. Airy-Nippon-Bryan-Cresheim Town Watch was largely devoted to members talking about what they thought made their neighborhood special, not what needed fixing.

The group’s coordinator, Steve Stroiman, opened the talk by giving a brief summary of the organization’s 25-year history.

The town watch was was started in May 1988 after a break-in. 

“We were a patrolling town watch for a number of years.” But, he added, “To sustain ourselves we had to be more than a patrolling group.”

The organization gradually added functions such as graffiti removal and clean-up efforts.

The group’s current activities include hosting speaker sessions on home safety, distributing a montly newsletter that goes to 245 households, contracting with a private snow removal service to clear the streets and serving as the voice of the neighborhood to the business community, the police, and city officials.

“It’s not the town watch that makes the neighborhood, it’s the neighbors,” said Stroiman.

Attendees quickly began giving examples of residents’ everyday efforts to help their neighbors and improve their neighborhood, which extends from Germantown Avenue to Cresheim Road between Allens Lane and Mt. Airy Avenue and along Bryan St. and Cresheim Road between Allens Lane and Mt. Pleasant Avenue.

Dave Kutzik recalled a time when 26 neighbors took to the streets to shovel after a bad snowstorm so that a resident could get his car out and go to dialysis treatment.

“It was emblematic of the family-like nature of the neighborhood,” said Kutzik.

Others liked the arts community that is growing in the area, such as the Mt. Airy Art Garage and the Mt. Airy Contemporary Artists Space (MACAS), both on the unit block of West Mt. Airy Avenue.

Others noted they like the throngs of trick-or-treaters they can count on at Halloween. 

“Never less than 225 kids come to my door,” said one attendee.

But the views that were aired weren’t all upbeat and positive. While one attendee mentioned the volunteer work that had gone into creating the playground at Henry Houston Elementary School about 10 years ago, another mentioned what she called “the elephant in the room,” saying that many were “fearful or concerned about their public schools.”

And the neighborhood will shortly be facing a new challenge: the reopening of the apartment complex at 136 Allens Lane.

The complex recently changed hands and was closed down for long-overdue repairs and refurbishing by the new owners.  Stroiman noted in a later email that it had long been a source of complaints and L&I violations.

During that process the town watch attempted to mediate between the new owners and tenants during a dispute that involved the tenants’ withholding their rent, Stroiman said.

With the dispute eventually resolved and the complex re-opening in two to three months, the neighborhood will shortly be home to 40 new families. Marilyn Cohen, a neighborhood resident and the executive director of West Mt. Airy Neighbors,described it as “An opportunity to reach out to new neighbors.”


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