Standing at the edge of the lot, Victor Robinson examined the scene with a quiet approval. It was only about an hour into the 2010 citywide Philly Spring Cleanup event on April 10 and already a small plastic pool, old wire fencing and a couch had been removed from an abandoned lot on the corner of 18th and Manton streets in the Point Breeze section of South Philadelphia.
“I try to keep this block clean the best I can,“ said Robinson, who proudly wears the title of block captain of the 1800 block of Manton Street. He acknowledged that, despite his effort, the dumping on this corner lot just quickly grew out of control.
That’s where the Point Breeze Pioneers community group stepped in to help.
“This lot, in particular, attracts a lot of dumping,“ explained Antoinette Johnson, who helped form the group last year as a way to reclaim abandoned spaces through greening. “It’s on the corner of a busy street and there’s a lot of construction happening so some contractors and various residents, who aren’t responsible, come and dump whatever. Every week we have a problem.”
But Johnson knows how to get the job done, as evident from Point Breeze Pioneers’ other cleanup endeavors and ongoing efforts at Chew Playground at 18th and Ellsworth streets and the Concert Garden at 21st and Ellsworth streets.
For the Point Breeze Pioneers, events like the Philly Spring Cleanup are as much about clearing a depreciating lot as it is to make themselves visible to the neighborhood. This is a notion that block captain, Robinson, knows all too well.
“My job around here is to make sure it’s clean and that there’s no trouble by keeping the boys off the corners,” Robinson said. “I stick around so they see me. There’s nights I’ve been out here until 4 a.m.”
Nodding towards the corner’s streetlamp, he pointed out a recently installed camera — the kind that blinks a blue light of warning to would-be criminals. It’s there because he put in the request for it. So far, Robinson said it has helped.
In addition to picking up trash on his block and regular maintenance, Robinson also takes extra initiative by walking down other blocks in the vicinity of his own.
“I like my whole neighborhood to be nice and neat,” he said.
The cleaning and clearing of the lot at 18th and Manton streets supports that effort. Over the next few weeks the lot will enter the beautifying phase, which includes plans for flower pots and a bed of sunflowers.
“Our experience in the past year has been that if you really beautify the lot, people tend not to treat it like crap. Once people see that someone is caring for it they have some respect to stop littering and dumping,” said Johnson of her tried and true method.
Does Robinson anticipate the lot will eventually fall back into its old ways?
“Not no more,” he said, shaking his head. “Not no more.”