Diane Newby has lived on the 6000 Block of Carpenter Street since 1972. “There aren’t many blocks like this here in the city, believe me,” she said.
The quiet, tree-lined block in Cobbs Creek is notable for its history and tight-knit community of residents, many of whom have lived on the block for the majority of their lives. Block residents are now primarily African-American, although until the 1950s only whites could legally purchase homes and live on the block.
Kirsten Britt has lived on the block for a total of 30 years.
“I’ve lived other places when I was away at school and just starting out on my own,” she said “And to go to these other places where you don’t know your neighbors, it’s a totally different experience to need sugar and actually have to go to the store.”
Britt’s case is not unusual. Many of her neighbors have lived on the block for decades.
“When I first moved on the block it was a bunch of old people,” said Anna Harris, who has lived on the block for 32 years.
“And now she is one of the old people,” said Britt with a laugh.
Harris continued, “It was okay. It was a nice block but it didn’t have the unity that we have now.”
That unity paid dividends when the block won first prize in the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee’s annual Clean Block Contest this past fall.
For the contest the entire block was decorated in an autumn harvest theme, complete with scarecrows, corn stalks and decorative foliage. The preparation took up to two weeks.
“What I really liked about it was that almost everyone on the block did something to help this process,” said block resident Trey Morgan. “Everyone did something, even if it wasn’t in their own yard. It was really a group effort.”
Britt concurred “It definitely was something that brought us all together,” she explained “We’re a close block, but you still have people who are not as close as others. But I thought this really brought everybody out to do stuff.”
For winning first in the contest, the block was given a $1,000 prize, the use of which is still being decided.
Accomplishments aside, perhaps the biggest problem facing the block is the lack of a four-way stop sign at the corner of 61st and Carpenter. “We’re averaging an accident a month,” explained Britt. “We’ve done everything possible to try and get something done with that corner and they’ve come up with every cheap way to fix the problem and it has just made it worse.”
The city has objected to placing a stop sign at the corner because it would obstruct the flow of traffic.
“That’s the point,” said Harris, frustrated. “We want to obstruct the flow of traffic because kids have been hit and there’s a lot of car accidents. Cops don’t even come anymore if there’s a car accident where no one is hurt.”
The neighbors have exhausted several methods of appeal, including multiple petitions and statistical evidence and data presented to City Hall in efforts to have a stop sign installed. Instead, a no-parking zone was implemented near the intersection, yet the problem remains.
“I took pictures of an accident where it was broad daylight, all corners were clear and they still almost killed each other,” said Britt.
In addition to traffic issues, the block is prone to electrical problems.
“We still have the original electrical mains running along the block. So we do suffer brownouts a lot on the block, especially during the summertime,” explained Newby. “Those little lines that are there need to be enlarged so we get more power because we need it.”
Like the traffic issue, City Hall responded albeit ineffectively. A transformer was installed at the southwest corner of 61st and Carpenter.
“It doesn’t help because you’re generating more electricity, but it’s still the same mains going into everybody’s house,” she explained. “So you’re still not getting more power. You may be getting more electrical surges, but you’re not getting what you need. Tear up the street and give us new lines, bigger mains.”
Despite the ongoing challenges facing the residents, they said that they believe the people and relationships on the block are what make it special.
“I don’t know anybody who has the type of relationships that I have on this block with the people on their block,” Britt explained.
“Its just a friendly block,” said Theresa Baker, who has been a Carpenter Street resident for four years. “I used to live on Pine Street. I grew up there from the time I was born but it seemed like when I moved here on this block, I felt more love than I did where I came from.”