To live on the 4600 block of Locust Street in Walnut Hill in West Philadelphia is to know tradition and to appreciate continuity. Walter and Marjorie Livingston have been living on this very street since 1951. Walter, an architect with two degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, and his wife were first attracted by the surrounding schools. They had six children, so education was a top priority. Now the Livingstons own four properties on the block, each filled with later generations of Livingstons. Walter was an active community member as well as a leader of several local organizations.
“We are here because this block serviced our needs then, and continues to do so now,” Walter says. “We had some wonderful times here,” he states.
The overall sense of community is quite visible and evident in the streets. Neighbors claimed they had block wide participation with shoveling snow after the snow storms. Younger residents also went off to the local stores to get groceries for elderly neighbors.
“Everyone on this block is pretty close,” says Lana Harris, a life-long resident as well as the block’s current captain, “we all look out for each other here.”
While one can easily call this block steady, one could hardly call it stagnant. Throughout the long years, residents saw changes in retail commercial corners, watched young families move in, and ethnic diversity grow.
Many of the residents claim a need for some vital community standards. On the top of that list is a grocery store and bank within walking distance. While residents claim there are a multitude of ethnic eateries, not all are in agreement that the commercial corners of Walnut Hill are accessible. Many would like to see more retail stores pop up, while some are content with what they have.
“I’d like to see a plant nursery go up around here,” says Termain Smith. She is a self-employed artist and resident of the Walnut Hill area for over two decades, “and a real, honest to goodness bakery. Not a coffee shop but a bakery…not that I need one of those.”
These community members are not passive about their desires either. When residents wanted to beautify their block, Harris wrote an essay and received a grant for $3,000 for block beautification. The local community development corporation, The Enterprise Center, used the money to buy from local florists to give each block member plants to spruce up the gardens.
Carol Blalack is an employee of a family-owned day care center on the block and recalls, “Last year when we all got plants and flowers, it was really cool to see people helping each other out, getting in there and digging for their neighbors. I like the participation on this block, it’s really cool.”
When the block or community needs help, residents say they can count on their neighbors to participate. For instance, veteran Fred Martins was glad to help erect the community playground just around the corner. Harris orchestrates annual summer block parties. With new families coming in and even students from the University of Pennsylvania join the community, Mary Livingston, the daughter of Walter and Marjorie has noticed a growth in community closeness.
“I think we all have a concern for the children,” Mary explains, “when I was growing up everyone had kids around the same time as mom and dad, so we always had something to do and somewhere to go. I miss that but it seems to be coming back.”
The biggest issue on the block right now is the concern for safety. The attorney for the Walnut Hill Community Association, Byron Houston, and former president Betty Reavis, are residents of the block. They heard about many people getting injured where Farragut cuts into Locust Street. Regardless of the residential factor of the street, Locust is technically considered a highway by the city.
“I think I can say that though no one I know or have been remotely close to has gotten hurt there,” says Houston. “I think it means something that we are genuinely concerned for anyone who crosses there. We really do care for our neighbors.”
Most of the residents are involved in their communities as a whole, attending meetings and participating in block clean ups. The president of Walnut Hill Community Association, Isaac Barber, is currently working to get town meeting attendance up. He claims that the community members are passionate about their block but more importantly their community as a whole. Several of his board members agree.
“I don’t think we could ever just think of ourselves as one block,” says Reavis. “We are a close community and are very concerned for each others’ well being.”
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