The festivities have ended and the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee judges are gone, but residents of West Rockland Street in Germantown aren’t waiting for a possible $1,000 prize to continue transforming their block.
Debra Monte, who has lived on the street for 20 years, said, “It’s come a long way; everybody pulling together, it’s beautiful.”
The block was considered a “hot mess” before neighbors started uniting during the past year. “Good block captains,” Monte offered as a reason.
One of those block captains, Emaleigh Doley, said that she and her neighbors have big plans for the now vacant lot conquered by the community this past summer.
Two large abandoned buildings, owned by the Redevelopment Authority and city, along with a long-abandoned church towered over the corner of Greene Street and West Rockland for nearly two decades.
Neighbors said the scene drew drugs, dumping and crime to the neighborhood. Despite calling officials about it for years, they got no response.
After a surprise Memorial Day Weekend visit from Mayor Michael Nutter in response to West Rockland Street’s “Grow this Block” event – when 30 gardens were planted – the properties were demolished within a week.
Community meetings have been held to decide about what to do with the freshly cleared space. Doley said they want to make sure to include surrounding blocks are involved in the plans.
A large community garden and education center was one idea that Doley, her sister and residents are working on with the church and school across the street.
“It would be a Germantown community garden, not just a Rockland Street one,” she said.
Since the beautification projects started, neighbors have collectively taken pride in their block. Most have repainted their porches. Benches made of recycled materials have been donated. Efforts to plan a block-wide home improvement weekend are in the works, too. The Fairmount Park Commission chipped in with the mulch covering three vacant lots at the end of the block.
“Our block smelled like paint and mulch for a few days,” Doley said, noting that residents are looking to partner with other organizations.
It would take a lot of time and money to build a community garden and with most residents are on fixed or low incomes, they can’t afford a large donation to neighborhood projects. Just last week, West Rockland Street hosted judges from the Clean Block contest through the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee.
The top four winners – of 30 nominated blocks across the city – will be awarded $1000, $700, $500, and $300 respectively. The winner will be announced this November.