There is an invisible line that runs down Aramingo Avenue dividing one neighborhood into two. The west side showcases a mixture of dilapidated houses and blight due to overpopulation with rentals, abandoned cars left in empty lots, and graffiti tags displayed on sides of buildings, signs and even mailboxes. The east side, however, is home to non-profit organizations like the Frank Rizzo Police Athletic League, the Portside Arts Center and parks like Campbell Square, projecting a more peaceful environment.
“That’s what I call it,” said Patty-Pat Kozlowski. “It’s the tale of two cities.
“When you cross Aramingo Avenue, it’s like you go into a portal and there’s no turning back,”she added. Kozlowski, a reporter for Spirit Community Newspapers, explained that when interviewing a neighborhood girl, the youngster told her she couldn’t leave her porch to go out and play on the street.
“When I asked her why, she told me it was because the guys on the corner of her street sell drugs and one of them got shot,” Kozlowski said. “That’s not a childhood.”
Kozlowski also mentioned that during several meetings of the Port Richmond On Patrol and Civic Association, which she leads, one of the biggest complaints are retail thefts on Aramingo Avenue. Cops have arrested people from breaking into cars, shoplifting and fighting.
Rep. John Taylor conducted a study on the disparities between the two sides of the neighborhood and the especially bleak environment west of Aramingo Avenue, which has become so overpopulated with rental properties. The study details a significant increase in “drug crimes, weapons violations, disorderly conduct, curfew violations. truancy, minor disturbances and domestic abuse.” The study further suggests the main cause of this lack in quality of life is the depopulation of longtime residents and the overpopulation of rental properties and vacant properties that are left for abandonment.
Because of this, real estate prices are much cheaper on the west side, appealing to landlords who buy up properties and monopolize the market for renters who are likely to pay in cash and who may not have the same value of their surroundings as homeowners.
“You see more families on the east side and more renters on the west side,” Kozlowski explained. “I call it the rental car theory. If you own a car, you are going to take care of it because it is your car. If you rent a car to go to the beach for a week, you are going to run the mileage up, fill it with cheap gas and not take care of it because it is not your property. It’s the same thing with these houses.”
Two laws were born from this effort by Taylor: The Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act, which expedites the prosecution of the owners of rundown buildings, and an “abandon property conservatorship legislation” that allows individuals and organizations to temporarily care for and rehabilitate blighted buildings.
But the problems facing Port Richmond are not unique to the area. “I think every neighborhood is going through what Port Richmond is going through,” said Maryann Trombetta. “You have the good and the bad. Crime happens in every neighborhood, in every area for more than one specific reason.”
Kozlowski and Trombetta hope to help change this attitude. Through their community organizations, the two have created a powerhouse within the community.
Ten years ago, Kozlowski turned what was formally known as, Port Richmond on Patrol (PROP) into a civic association and now known as PROPAC. Trombetta attended many of Kozlowski’s meetings and eventually the two bonded over their love for the town and began to collaborate.
“Port Richmond on Patrol was the Town Watch and Patrol for that time,” Maryann Trombetta said. “After Patty added on the Civic Association, they could go to [zoning meetings] down in City Hall. After that, they became PROPAC. That is where I met Patty-Pat. I would go to all of her meetings because she always seemed to be helping someone. She was worse than me.”
“You see someone like Maryann and you can’t help but like her and respect her,” said Kozlowski.
“[Maryann] just takes a lot of pride in Port Richmond,” said Ken Paul, a core member of Trombetta’s Town Watch and active PROPAC participant. “She’s proud of where she came from and she will defend her neighborhood until the end no matter how bad people make it out to be. She believes in the good in the [west side] and believes it can even become better.”
Kozlowski and Trombetta represent the effort to reunite the opposite ends of the dividing line, Kozlowski living on the east side and Trombetta hailing from the west side of Aramingo Avenue The two have become known throughout the town as one entity.
“I saw Maryann dancing in the street at one of the events I was hosting … and I called her [and Laura Kelly] the “boom boom sisters,” Kozlowski explained. “Mare then christened me the third ‘boom boom sister’ and the name has stuck with us ever since.”
“Anything that goes on in the neighborhood, we’re in it together,” said Trombetta. One of the biggest moments for the duo in an unlikely victory against when Walmart wanted to set up shop right beside the local hospital. “We were the small, little neighborhood that people thought could never fight Walmart,” said Trombetta. “But we did. And we won.”
They two women said they are hopeful for the future and agree that they are on the frontier for a lot of change. In the past, Kozlowski said, “people were so close knit.” As she reminisced about Sunday suppers and card games at the neighbor’s house she said she feels lucky to have the old values she grew up with on her block of Thompson Street.
Trombetta said she is trying the return to community closeness and respect. “Maryann’s a block captain and she’s the only saving grace there,” said Kozlowski.
Hoping for a revitalization similar to Fishtown’s, Kozlowski added hopes the neighborhood’s proximity to Center City and the Delaware River will bring more industry and income to the area.