Communities thrive because of neighbors. Not because of high property values or community associations. Not because of political connections or tax structures. They thrive because of people who care.
This Saturday, the neighbors on my block gathered to clean our street. My wife is the block captain, and she led the effort. In watching the neighbors on our tree lined block cut weeds and gather trash with brooms, bags and work gloves supplied by the Streets Department’s Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee, I saw once again what I learned as a child growing up in Philadelphia: a neighborhood is not just a location. It is a state of mind.
Our street is a place where the houses are not the biggest, the cars are not the fanciest, and there is no association setting rules regarding the minutiae of our everyday existence. But we’ve learned to work together to make our slice of Philadelphia a community.
We do so by accomplishing simple things. We pool resources to repair common areas, raise funds for neighborhood efforts run by our police district and we each do our part to keep our street clean.
Simply put, we’ve learned to work together, and it’s made our street a place where it’s safe for our children to play.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. It simply means that the bulk of the issues are caused by non-residents who bring negative or illegal behaviors to our street. We’ve learned to deal with that, as well.
By forming relationships with local police commanders and working together to protect our property, we’ve created a place where problems can be dealt with. We’re not where we’d like to be as of yet, but we’re closer than we were nearly a decade ago when we moved to our block.
We are not alone
This kind of cooperation isn’t unique to my street, nor is it restricted to middle-income neighborhoods. It can happen anywhere.
When I was a teenager living on the 2500 block of Oxford St. in the heart of North Philadelphia, my grandmother was the block captain. We used City resources from the Streets Department to clean our block and paint the curbs on a yearly basis. While doing so, we teamed children with adults to form relationships based on mutual respect. It worked during that time, and I believe it can work again.
To be sure, there are obstacles.
In a city with so many issues — from a 28 percent poverty rate to 65 percent of our babies being born to single mothers in the last year alone — there is always the temptation to say the problems are too big to solve. But Philadelphia can be a great city if all of us, one person at a time, one house at a time, one block at a time, commit to the power of community.
That’s why I stay in Philadelphia. I believe in the power of community. Government can’t legislate it, corporations can’t fund it and special interests can’t stop it. Community is a power that comes from neighbors who care.
Our block is a community that is thriving because of that power, and if you and your neighbors can harness it, your community will thrive, as well.