Southwest Philadelphia: There’s No Place Like Home
Fannie Wilson can remember a time when Upland Street thrived. When the block was filled with row after row of houses, and the streets were regularly tended to. She can remember when a family occupied each house on the block.
Thirty-nine years later, the 7000 block of Upland Street has made a significant transformation.
“As the times changed, different [families] moved in. A lot of houses have been destroyed, some torn down,” Wilson, a resident of the block and former block captain, said. “A couple [houses] need to be torn down, and haven’t been.”
The residents face a constant uphill battle with the lack of funding and government support, unanswered phone calls and requests and shrinking recreational options. Yet for the families that share an unbreakable bond, this is home.
Carol Kellam, 62, another resident of Upland Street, has lived on the block most of her life and raised her four sons in the neighborhood.
“I’ve been here since I was five years old and I’ve seen the neighborhood change drastically,” she said. “We don’t have a swimming pool. We don’t have a playground. We have nothing for our kids to do out here.”
Recently, a playground and recreation center located near the block was closed to the public, leaving the children of the neighborhood with no place close by to play.
It’s difficult to keep the kids from playing in the streets and in the abandoned houses, Kellam said.
These houses have been standing for almost ten years, she added.
Carolyn Terry, the block captain, suggested putting the empty lots to good use.
“Do something with these lots. Give a place for these kids to play right on this street,” she said. “We’ve got all the land. It’s sitting there not doing anything but gaining weeds.”
However, Wilson has tended the empty lot across from her home, planting some flowers and her extra tomato plants from her backyard garden, she said.
“The thing that gets me is that these lots belong to the city now,” she added, “But if the lot belonged to us we’d get ticketed for not cleaning the and cutting the grass.”
Wilson often sits out on her chair to weed-whack the grass and tend the garden, she said.
“I can’t come out in the sun and be doing stuff,” Wilson said. “I don’t have the energy no more, but I like to see [the neighborhood] look nice.”
The block has also become the chosen site for those looking to dispose of waste. Cars will circle the block waiting for the right time, when no one’s watching, to dump, Kellam said.
“When people dump, we get together and sit in the streets,” she added.
All the residents have called officials concerned about the dumping, and most of the time they’ll take down the license for future reference, Wilson said, but still the dumping continues.
They all do what they can in order to improve the conditions of the block, she added.
Flowers and potted plants decorate the front of their homes while their backyards house small gardens, growing an assortment of vegetables and flowers.
“We try to make it look homey,” Kellam said. “Times are hard, so you do the best you can with what you have.”
The strongest asset on this block is the closeness of its residents.
“We don’t consider each other to be neighbors,” Steven Byrd, a grandson of Fannie Wilson, said. “We’re more like family.”
At the end of the day, Upland Street’s residents gather out on a sidewalk dubbed “the beach,” located under a mulberry tree, next to an abandoned lot, to talk and relax.
Often times on weekends and holidays, the neighbors pull out their grills and cook a feast of hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken and more, said Joe Harrison, a resident of the 7000 block of Upland Street.
Harrison has lived on this block for 37 years and is now raising his kids in the neighborhood as well. His mother, Carol Harrison, also lives on Upland Street.
Ms. Harrison has lived on the block for 38 years and said she wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’m not going nowhere,” she added. “I’m a be right here.”
The feeling of security and comfort is one felt by the majority of the residents on the block.
“[This is] where you know you can fall asleep in the ‘hood, wake up and everything that you had is still there,” Byrd said.
On this block, everyone looks out for everyone else, Wilson said.
Tyrese Campfield, a grandson of Fannie Wilson, has been living on the block for 24 years. Channeling his energy into rap and hip-hop music, he looks at safety of those living on Upland Street is a top priority.
“Anything that is going to endanger the children, or the well being of anybody that lives on this block or comes to this block, we don’t ever let that go down,” Campfield said.
The boys look after the older women, Kellam said.
“I can sleep and not worry about somebody busting in my door,” she added. “I can holler ‘help,’ and somebody is going to come in and help me.”
Much has changed for Wilson since she moved onto the block with her husband back in 1971, but the closeness is something that remains steadfast, she said.
For the small, quiet block of 70th and Upland Street, things aren’t always what they appear to be.
“Even though it’s junky and messed up now with a lot of tall weeds and stuff,” Wilson said. “It’s the closest thing to living in the country.”