Every Friday night the streets of Manayunk are littered with empty beer bottles and drunken college students stumbling back to their homes. The locals are tired of it and are demanding a change.
The Manayunk Neighborhood Council, a non-profit civic association that advocates for a clean, safe and quiet Manayunk, is determined to battle the outcome of a flow of college students who have changed the infrastructure of a neighborhood once known for its family-oriented social setting.
According to the University of Pennsylvania’s database on Philadelphia neighborhoods, there are 266 vacant properties in Manayunk, and many of them are expected to be snatched by incoming college students seeking affordable housing. However, most of the students are forecasted to become temporary residents departing after graduation, creating a rift between younger crowds searching for a quick housing fix and community veterans disappointed in the birth of for-rent residencies.
Darlene Messina, the director of community livability for the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, professed her frustration with the neighborhood’s cultural and social shifts by verifying the important role that families incorporate into the community that has only recently deteriorated.
“I am extremely disappointed with the path [Manayunk] has taken,” Messina said. “Changes have negatively impacted the quality of life.”
For Messina, stay-at-home mothers and families that have settled into the neighborhood provide a safety net that young professionals and mobile college residents simply cannot offer. People that are in their homes during the day can act as community watchdogs and keep an eye on suspicious behavior, something busy college students can’t do while taking classes.
“Older generations are the eyes and ears of the community,” Messina said. “The neighborhood has changed dramatically since I’ve moved here.”
The most common complaint coming from what she called “the older demographic” is late-night partying and loud noises that keep residents from sleeping. To Messina, even college students get tired of the party atmosphere that eventually pushes them out of the community and invites more students into the neighborhood — a cyclical issue.
“Seventy-five percent of Manayunk residents are temporary and most are under the age of 30,” Messina said. “[The students] get to behave irresponsibly. Manayunk has a really bad image in terms of its party atmosphere.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18- to 24-year-olds represent 16.3 percent of the Manayunk population, creating a disparity between U.S. government records and Messina’s claim. Though whether or not that demographic consists of temporary or permanent residents is difficult to track.
But an accumulation of beer bottles and miscellaneous trash after a busy Friday evening on Main Street has added credibility to Messina’s concerns. She and other community watchdogs into the early Saturday hours often hear factions of stumbling, drunken college students, causing many within the community to complain to city officials – at one point even to former Councilman Michael Nutter, who has yet to echo Messina’s pleas as the mayor of Philadelphia.
City regulations forbid more than three residents to live in rental row homes – an issue that Messina said isn’t regularly enforced and causes property values to plummet. In addition, low taxes in the area don’t compensate for extra public services required to clean up trash abandoned by partying college students.
But not all hope is lost, nor does everyone agree with Messina’s position.
Some residents, including 21-year-old Charlotte Marshall, who lives on Baldwin Street, said they believe the neighborhood is more family-oriented than most people think.
“I like how there are families living on my street,” Marshall said. “It’s not just kids partying. I feel safer.”
Although her opinion may seem like an anomaly to some, she encouraged people to appreciate Manayunk’s proximity to transportation hubs as well as the affordability and safety of the neighborhood. She even joked about a neighbor possessing live chickens–something that may resemble communities separated from an urban stereotype.
“I don’t see many young families and I would never settle down here,” Marshall admitted. To organizations like the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, this presents a serious flaw when attempting to revert back to Manayunk’s family routes.
When Messina criticized the modifications occurring in a neighborhood she has been a resident of for over 20 years, she made sure to emphasis her devotion and love to a neighborhood rich in inter-generational trends, but couldn’t help but reiterate troubling patterns.
“Weeds are growing,” Messina said. “I have this distaste for Manayunk now. And an ideal Manayunk isn’t possible.”
In her view, college students are attracted to the area because they think they will get a taste of the urban life, which to her Manayunk isn’t necessarily about.
She said she hopes that city officials will consider her concerns.
“We could improve the quality of life by 25 percent with better cooperation with the police department and other regulators. I’m not against students, but there are just too many of them.”
After a brief pause, Messina said, “There’s a small group of us that continue to be hopeful.”