The Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee judges have spoken, and West Rockland street neighbors won the Neighborhood Transformation award — a special honor given to block captains whose street has seen substantial change in the past year. They fell short as Clean Block finalists but competition was stiff between nearly 60 blocks across the city.
During the spring, West Rockland Street was undistinguishable from the block it is today. Despite two years of block cleanups, a pair of abandoned buildings loomed over the corner of Greene and West Rockland. It was the site of illegal dumping; more than 200 bags of dog feces were found during one year.
After a May beautification event called “Grow this Block,” West Rockland Street saw something they’d never imagine. The abandoned buildings were torn down with the help of the city. Then, the transformation started taking hold.
The block revitalization efforts are spearheaded by longtime residents Aine and Emaleigh Doley, energetic co-block captains and sisters who say the entire neighborhood is now energized.
“It’s a real sense of acknowledgement for all the hard work we’ve see,” Emaleigh Doley said, adding that the real prize is an organized community. The few hundred dollars from the award will go right into the educational garden fund and other projects. “You can’t just clean up. People have to make change on their own for this to be sustainable.”
The West Rocklanders are far from done working. Emaleigh Doley has been taking classes at the Citizens Planners Institute, a partnership between the city and the Planning Commission to educate residents on how to navigate the city to get things done in their neighborhood by creating a long-term plan. Aine is involved in the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s Garden Tenders program. Their next goal?
Near the point where W. Rockland meets Germantown Avenue there sits a small vacant green space where the sisters plan to create a small park. With a few benches donated by Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, the sisters plan to plant trees down the block and open the park for neighbors to eat lunch or have a small party.
“We all have row homes so we really don’t have a lot of room,” she said.
Where the derelict buildings stood, the Doley sisters want to open a Germantown-wide educational garden, partnering with the church and school across the street.
The block also wants to move beyond greening efforts into finding help for home repairs. Enter Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, a non-profit based in West Philadelphia that has been helping low income homeowners get “safe, warm and dry” since 1988.
Some residents are applying for a “block build” where homeowners, volunteers and a corporate sponsor come together over a weekend and address leaks and most issues except structural damage. Nothing is finalized yet, but neighbors hope that will happen next year.