Thursday, March 24, 2011

From desolate to dynamic - northeast Philadelphia

Scene from Desolate to Dynamic

"If it wasn't for the recreation programs, where would the kids be other than hanging out on the corner, selling drugs?" [Daniel Clark, neighborhood recreational organizer, Philadelphia]

Exactly right, Daniel!

Eastern north Philadelphia is a "community service desert" with few recreation centers or playgrounds. With a quarter million residents, it is less a neighborhood and more a mini-city of rich and poor. For much of it, years of divestment have left few services for kids and families. Handball courts are rare and parks, obsolete. One community worker claims there are 40,000 vacant and blighted properties.

The asset map below shows only 5 community asset hotspots (in black). They are surrounded by large swaths (in grey and white) where few community services exist anywhere within walking distance.

Asset map showing lack of services

In such a place it can be easy to lose hope. Unsurprisingly crime flourishes in such places.

Last year, as part of a larger neighborhood redevelopment project underway, I worked with LISC and ran a SafeGrowth training. I met remarkable community development workers in the training. They chose field projects to improve the quality and safety of depleted services in northeast Philadelphia, particularly a local handball court.

The LISC Community Safety Initiative website describes what happened next. Click HERE.

Local playgrounds, shown above, were in need of care and repair. This month they released a video describing how their work is turning the desolate to dynamic.

In the video you'll note that the transformation unfolds during a time of stark budgets. According to program officers the city has "a capital-spending program that is barely large enough to maintain existing facilities, much less build new ones."

Still, they find paths forward. If you want to see them, check out their video from Desolate to Dynamic HERE.

The best part of the video was Kiki, listening to this charming young lady and watching her amazing basketball skills.

I've said it before about youth in the city - it's kids like Kiki who will show us the way forward.

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