neighborhood

Posted by Ellen

Presidents' Day has already come and gone, and they still haven't taken down the Valentine's decorations.

Posted by Ellen

Ten or so days ago, when Philly got whacked by a pretty good thump of snow, this guy was the only one out driving around in the neighborhood, until he wasn't.

He was going the wrong way up 24th Street–and really, why not? There were no other cars on the road. But he slipped and slid, and then he was digging and digging. . . .

One of the neighbors brought him some cardboard, which was eventually helpful, but nobody offered to help him shovel, which might have made a more immediate contribution. (In our own defense, it is noted here that ever since last August, when we moved into an apartment, we no longer own a snow shovel.)

It's warmed up now and rained, and the snow is disappearing. Maybe this next month will bring us more winter, but maybe not.

Posted by Ellen

Around the middle of every October comes a day declared Philly Photo Day by the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. Anybody who happens to be in Philly that day with any kind of camera, even a cellphone, is invited to submit a snapshot that captures a smidgen of what's going on, on that day, in this city.

The nineteen hundred photos turned in this year, for the fifth iteration of the event, will be displayed next April in the new Dilworth Park plaza at City Hall.

Above is Katrin Maldre's submission, showing the action behind the back counter at Gavin's Cafe in Fitler Square. Below is my entry, featuring Grand Opening balloons outside a new pet-supply store on South Street.

Posted by Ellen

Next week, for the first time in Little League history, a team of 12- and 13-year-olds from the city of Philadelphia will be playing in the World Series in Williamsport, PA.

They are our Taney Dragons, who play at Taney Field in our neighborhood's Schuylkill River Park. To wangle an invitation to the big dance, the Dragons had to pull off a string of upsets, becoming the first Philly team ever to win districts, to win regionals, to win states, and then last week to win the Mid-Atlantic championship.

The way Little League works, it's almost always the well-funded suburban operations that come away with the postseason prizes. Taney had to raise money all year long to go out for these tournaments; they scrounged for practice fields all over the city, sometimes using a hangar out by the airport. Many of the parents can't afford to travel to watch their kids play, but they managed to raise $20,000 in a few days to send the team to Connecticut for the Mid-Atlantic tournament.

The Dragons' victory in Connecticut was a stunner; they dispatched Newark, Delaware, last year's Mid-Atlantic champions, 8-0. Their bats were hot, obviously, but their pitching was pretty much the same as always: a cool clinic of 70-mile-an-hour fastballs and heartbreaking curveballs, a shutout with just three hits allowed by the Dragons' star Mo'Ne Davis, who will be the only girl this year in the Little League World Series.

Although Little League has permitted girls to play since it was forced to by the courts in 1974, Davis is still a rarity. She says she has never pitched to a girl batter. But baseball is not really her passion; that would be basketball, her favorite sport. Her dream is to play in the WNBA.

Meanwhile, she's the Dragon who gets all the attention, which may be a good thing since she's unflappable, never discouraged or distracted, nothing at all like a typical 13-year-old. It's the boys on the team who crank up the drama, along with the energy level. 

Tune in on August 15 on national TV for the Dragons' first World Series contest, against a team from South Nashville, Tennessee.

Posted by Ellen

The neighbors who live along the west side of a block of 21st Street near Kater had noticed that their cold water wasn't cold any more. Right out of the tap, it was hot; one of them took its temperature and found it feverish, over a hundred degrees, which is hot enough for a nice hot shower.

They called the water department, which promised to look into it. But the guys we talked to Friday morning who'd been sent to look into it might be described as less than entirely sympathetic. "They're getting free hot water," is how one of them put it. "Free hot water, and they're not happy."

The water guys suspected a leak in the steam line that runs under the sidewalk along 21st Street, which sounds like a dangerous situation, though nobody was acting particularly worried.

The guys from the steam company, on the other hand, suspected erosion under the sidewalk in the aftermath of a water main break a couple of years ago; they believed there was no longer enough dirt down there to insulate the steam line.

For reasons we cannot fully fathom, both sets of guys were looking for evidence in the sewer lines. The crew pictured here took the low-tech approach, using shovels and eyeballs; another crew had fancier technology, basically a snake with a video camera at its head, transmitting images onto a screen set up in the back of a van.

We asked what they were seeing on the screen. "Nothing yet," they said. "Just sewer."

We asked what they were looking for. They kind of snorted. "Steam," they said.

By mid-afternoon, everybody had packed up and gone home. We're not sure if they saw any steam, but the neighbors are still getting free hot water.

Posted by Ellen

At this power plant at the edge of the neighborhood, the smokestacks that once belched day and night have been quiet now for a couple of years.

Power is still generated here at the Schuylkill complex on Grays Ferry Road, but at a newer facility immediately behind the one pictured above. Veolia Energy bought the newer part of the plant from Philadelphia's municipal electric company and converted its fuel source from oil to natural gas; that single modification reduced greenhouse gas emissions for the city as a whole, it is said, by almost 2 percent, equivalent to taking 60,000 cars off the road.

Veolia makes steam here for center city Philadelphia's centralized heating. And it does release a little smoke, not from these stacks but from a chimney behind them, not visible in the picture.

Posted by Ellen

Every day in Philadelphia, houses are declared dead, mostly after long years of painful dilapidation and decay. If they don't collapse or crumble of their own weight, they are demolished, eventually, without ceremony; the machines show up, and the trucks haul away the pieces.

Until Saturday, 3711 Melon Street in West Philly's Mantua neighborhood was no different from all the others. It had sheltered families since 1872. The last owner was Leona Richardson, who bought it in 1946 and brought up her son Roger there. Mantua was a good place to raise a family; the neighbors were poor, but they looked after one another, and they had stores, schools, churches, a post office, a movie theater, a firehouse. The houses were small and already old, rotting, cracking, always needing some kind of repair, but a single mother like Leona Richardson could afford to buy a home of her own in Mantua, and could live there comfortably and see her son grow up and get an education.

Eventually, Miss Leona paid off the house on Melon Street and bought another place a few blocks away, where she lived until her death in 2002. Even before she died, the old house was becoming harder and harder to keep up; after she died, it was basically abandoned. Today, shells of houses like 3711 Melon Street are offered for sale in the neighborhood for $30,000; they languish on the market; nobody thinks they're worth that much. They're 140 years old now, and in recent years they've been better homes for rats than for people.

People have tried to find shelter in them, of course. Drunks and addicts have used them when they could. Drug wars have been fought in and around them. Neighborhood children died in some of these empty houses.

The neighborhood as a whole was grievously wounded, losing families and homes and businesses and city services, and when finally the worst of the houses were sold for scrap, ripped apart and hauled away, the wounds in the fabric of the neighborhood became scars, marks of permanent disfiguring damage. Now only weeds grow tall where once families had flourished. There are more and more gaps in the blocks of rowhouses, ugly gaps, like missing teeth.

But the passing of 3711 Melon Street last Saturday did not go quietly. A proper funeral was observed, complete with flowers, organ, remembrances, eulogy, black armbands, folding fans, food, and "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." There were printed programs, with color photos of the deceased. And when the machine tore into the house, pallbearers were at the ready, accompanying the dumpster load of what was once a home to its place of final repose.

Needless to say, the funeral for 3711 Melon Street was observed in such a public manner because politicians and community organizers were wanting to draw attention to some of their work. The ground on which the lost house had stood will become part of a parcel slated for development as affordable housing. "Plan, or be planned for," several of the speakers told the gathering. 

"I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person," one of the speakers noted, quoting the very recently departed Maya Angelou, "by the way she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, tangled Christmas tree lights."

The neighbors of Mantua have had to handle a hell of a lot more than those three things. Our thoughts are with them as they deal with this fresh loss.

Posted by Ellen

Marco's rock is right on track for the U.S. of A.