West Rockland Street beautification efforts impress contest judges

Mecca Bey and her family have lived on West Rockland Street in Germantown for the past few years. She calls the pop up gardening event that she’s seen during the past few months “amazing.”

Before, Bey was a novice gardener, but now she calls herself an “urban gardener.” She credits the Doley sisters – Emaleigh and Aine – for their efforts and says that all the co-block captains have made significant changes over the past few years.

“They brought together more unity in this block,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

On Tuesday, the unit block of West Rockland Street was one of the 30 blocks across the city competing for a $1,000 prize awarded by the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee (PMBC) run by the Streets Department. A trolley full of volunteer judges spilled out of their police escorted motorcade by late afternoon to give the block a score on a number of factors.

“They are scored on beautification projects, unification among the block, and basically how the block works together,” said PMBC administrator Wanda Jones-Heading who awarded one of the three block captains, Emaleigh Doley, with street signs, a complimentary dust pan and broom along with $150 prize just for being nominated.

“I think it’s remarkable to see how the residents of this block have grown in the last year,” said Doley, who isn’t exactly sold on the beautification efforts being the catalyst in the recent progress. “We’re really just dedicated and interested in seeing this kind of positive change.”

Other West Rockland Street residents recognize the difference its made, though.

“This block has come a long way in transforming,” longtime resident Roz Rahman said. “This is the first time we were ever put in a competition. … We are really excited about that.”

The street had a few successes during the past year including a mass gardening event called “Grow this block” where 30 gardens sprung up in a day, and pushing the city to demolish longstanding vacant buildings near the end of the street.

Many residents were outside toiling before the judges’ arrival, putting the last-minute touches on their yards and hanging signs that detailed their progress. One of those was Brother George Christian.

“My mom has lived on this block for 41 years,” explained Christian, a local minister as he leaned over the fence of his mother Gloria’s front yard. He said the key to a strong neighborhood is making it feel like a family. “No child on this block goes unnoticed. I don’t have any kids living on this block … but I go to PTA meetings so I’m caught up on what’s going on.”

PMBC judges didn’t exactly hide their respect for what’s happening on Rockland. One of them, Jason Dawkins, said it’s easier for blocks with front yards to create a unique presence.

“Rockland has the spirit of a green thumb,” Dawkins said. “They’re definitely in the running.”

The winners of the PMBC competition won’t be announced until a November awards banquet.

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