PhillyRising helping Lawncrest make the most of what it has

This is the second half of a series about PhillyRising and its role in Northeast neighborhoods. The first half was about Frankford.

PhillyRising is relatively new to Lawncrest. Northeast Coordinator Manny Citron said he spent time building connections within the community before launching the program on March 15, 2012.

“When we did our initial mappings for possible PhillyRising neighborhoods, Frankford met all of our standard criteria but we also knew we would expand into Lawncrest,” Citron said.

The selections of neighborhoods for PhillyRising are determined through geographical information systems, which is a computerized mapping program that allows a programmer to build layers of information on top of each other, Citron explained.

“One layer might be property crime, the next layer might be violent crime, the next layer might be litter and so on,” Citron said. “It then generates a heat map to show where you have the most of those occurrences happening at the same time and location. Those areas will show up brightest on the map.”

This section of Lawncrest is correlated to the highest concentrations of community disorder like crime, drug activity, vacant businesses and empty lots within the 2nd Police District.

Lawncrest, however, presents PhillyRising with a different level of issues in comparison with Frankford.

“Lawncrest is interesting because it’s a neighborhood that’s seen a lot of transition in the last 10 years,” Citron said. “You might not know it by just attending community meetings, but in terms of breakdown of the population, Lawncrest has a higher population of African American, Hispanic and Asian people than the city has as a whole.”

Citron said he believes that while Lawncrest doesn’t have as many classic symbols of community disorder that areas like Strawberry Mansion and Frankford have, it is a community that could go in either direction in the next 10 years.

“One of the challenges is that the newer population doesn’t have a history of interacting with their local government and community,” Citron said. “When there is a lack of communication and interaction, it breeds opportunities for things to fall apart in the neighborhood.”

The Lawncrest Community Association is among the most active local governments in the city, according to Citron, who said that as many as 60 people will attend the neighborhood meetings. His objective is to engage the new families in the community.

“The work we’ve been doing with PhillyRising is trying to open up access, engagement and empowerment to people from the general population who may have not gotten into their community association before,” Citron said.

One of the first things Citron did in Lawncrest was establish a new advisory council at the Lawncrest Recreation Center.

“People in the neighborhood told me that they have this big, nice recreation center but had no idea how to access it,” Citron said. “The previous advisory council hadn’t met for seven or eight years, so this summer we elected new members to the council.”

He also reached out to block captains to make them aware of PhillyRising and the services available to them. The block captain program is run through the Philadelphia More Beautiful Commission.

“We wanted the block captains to know that they can still reach out to the PMBC as a resource, but they also have the support of PhillyRising, the community association and the office of Councilwoman Marian Tasco,” Citron said.

Citron began hosting block captain-exclusive meetings as a way to unite the neighborhood and share what challenges the different blocks are facing.

Block clean-ups have been a valuable tool in making PhillyRising’s presence known in the community, as well as engaging the neighbors. A block clean-up on the 500-block of Allengrove Street allowed neighbors to meet Citron and the other families on the small block whom they may have not previously interacted with.

“Part of my goal in doing block clean-ups is to show that the city is engaged and aiding the neighbors on the project they’re working  on and ultimately change the nature of their interaction with the city,” Citron said. “They just need to feel empowered to reach out to those services and also lean on each other as neighbors.”

The 400-block of Van Kirk Street also hosted a block clean-up. Block captain Linwood Holland said that the pride the neighbors have for their block drives them to keep it clean.

“The people on this block want to come out, want to make it clean and want to make a difference in the city, so if we can be a model block that’s perfect,” Holland said.

Deborah Mikus, the branch manager and children’s librarian at the Lawncrest Library, said she is heavily involved in the neighborhood.

“Because I work at the library eight hours a day, five days a week, I like to be involved with the neighborhood,” Mikus said. “I go to the community association meetings and listen to the issues in the neighborhood and bring that information to my staff.”

Mikus has seen a shift in the population of Lawncrest in the five years she has worked in the library. “Lawncrest has become somewhat of a transient neighborhood with new families and new ethnicities moving in, so the neighborhood is constantly changing,” Mikus said.

She said she believes a strong local government is critical to the future of Lawncrest and PhillyRising has been a great resource to aid in building and maintaining that foundation.

“We have always had a strong communinity association and PhillyRising helps connect them to the block captains in Lawncrest and organize block clean-ups,” Mikus said. “PhillyRising doesn’t just move into an area and fix the issues for the residents; they give them the tools to do it themselves.”

Jessica Lopez and Lucia Volpe are students reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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