Recently, Hall Monitor attended the kickoff meeting for the Kensington neighborhood initiative of Philly Rising, a program run out of the city managing director's office. The meeting, held at the McPherson Square branch of the Free Library, drew a few curious stragglers from another meeting that had just ended, about the cleanup of the nearby "Needle Park." But the remainder of the audience was primarily other city officials.
The "crowd" was asked a simple question: "What are some of the issues facing your community?"
Did I mention this was Kensington? Kensington, of the open-air drug markets? Kensington, of the violent crime and high murder rates? Kensington, the red-lined experiment in urban decay?
"Drugs," volunteered someone. "Vacant lots," said another. "The banks won't lend to us to buy property here," said yet another. "Violence." "Litter." "Lack of jobs." The answers were transcribed in permanent marker to an oversized sheet of paper. But how that piece of paper — and how the mayor's Philly Rising program — will make much of a difference isn't so clear.
The program, first announced at the start of last year, operates with a $450,000 budget that employs seven people to plant the seeds of change in neighborhoods by bringing together community groups and resources. So far, it's in eight neighborhoods.
In each, similar lists have been distilled into a few highly visible achievements: a cleanup day at 27th Street and Lehigh Avenue; the establishment of a computer lab in Hartranft; a music-production program for kids in Point Breeze.
It's either an unfortunate coincidence or a sardonic joke — probably the former — that the initials for Philly Rising are "P.R." But don't blame Hall Monitor for pointing it out. Last week, the Daily News credited managing director Rich Negrin — featured clutching a broom on the front page — with transforming Philly Rising from a "pilot program to a citywide movement." And the administration itself has Facebooked and tweeted Philly Rising (#phillyrising!) to high heaven, touting it here as a clean-up plan, there as a crime-fighting plan and generally as a game-changing neighborhoods program.
The cleanups and computer labs are worthy projects, and no one minds the city's parachuting in with goodies. But it's hard to see how seven people, enumerating decades-old problems in permanent ink for tiny audiences, constitute the kind of neighborhoods program — much less the kind of "movement" — these people are waiting for.