After seven years of looking at trash, old tires and the very same broken chair along Delaware/Columbus Avenue, Waterfront Square resident Joan Becker had enough.
Becker, an artist who frequently walks near the river in search of the wildflowers she paints, said she and other residents had talked about the problem for years, but she was especially irked now that the city is investing money, time and effort into revitalizing the Central Delaware waterfront.
“If this is going to be one of the premier areas of the city, shouldn't we make an effort to make it look as good as it possibly can?” she asks.
Waterfront Square residents hold regular clean-up days, but there were some places behind fences or on private property they couldn't get to. So Becker brought her concerns to a residents' meeting, and neighbors endorsed sending a letter from Waterfront Square management to Mayor Nutter, city officials, and others. Becker wrote the text, but management sent it on Waterfront Square letterhead in late May. Shortly after that, an enormous tire and other debris was fished out of an inlet near Spring Garden Street. The chair was finally gone. Some tall grass was mowed.
(Click here to read the letter and see some "before" shots.)
It's much better, Becker said, and she's grateful. But walking the same area a few weeks ago, some areas were still messy. And Becker questioned whether some were dangerous.
A chain link fence at the inlet, where debris could still be seen in the water, was not fastened tightly against its supports. Another iron fence was bent in a way that a person could easily access the river through it. Some businesses had piles of junk laying around. The sidewalks beside a city-owned building on the corner of Fairmount Ave. were littered with trash and broken glass, and tree branches hung so low that parking cars hit them.
The impact was that first block of Fairmount felt uncared for and unsafe, said Becker, who has switched to using Brown Street to walk to her studio instead.
Becker said she's grateful for the improvements that have been done, but more effort is required. She is also concerned that the cleaned areas won't be regularly maintained. She has been told that Licenes & Inspections issued some citations to private property owners, but since not all the private property has been cleaned up, she wonders about enforcement.
Mayor Nutter gave Waterfront Square's letter to the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which manages the city-owned property along the river, and oversees the Master Plan for the Central Delaware that aims to revitalize the area.
Joe Forkin, DRWC's vice president for operations and development, said it was DRWC contractors who cleaned up the inlet – which they do not have permission to dredge.
The city-owned land will be kept cleaner than it has been, Forkin said, because maintenance crews are now out regularly for upkeep on the Penn Street portion of the Delaware Waterfront Trail – a project that cuts in front of Waterfront Square.
“Now that the trail is in, we have the responsibility of keeping it up,” he said.
When asked what could be done about problems on private property, Forkin said he would look around, and then call private property owners about issues he saw. DRWC has no enforcement ability, he said, but “we can call and say, 'hey!' and give them a little nudge,” he said.
Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger, who sits on the DRWC board, said both he and the mayor agreed that the appearance of the waterfront could impact the ability to attract future development.
When told about the conditions on the corner of Fairmount, Greenberger said the old asphalt building “is ours” and that he would make a call to get it taken care of.
“This isn't something that requires a pot of money,” Becker said. It requires consistency, she added.
Kellie Patrick Gates writes about planning, neighborhood development and the Central Delaware Waterfront. A journalist for more than two decades, she worked for daily newspapers in Central Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and South Florida before coming to Philadelphia in 2003 to write for the Inquirer. Her work has appeared on PlanPhilly since 2007, and she also writes Love, the Inquirer's weekly wedding column. A native of Elk County, Pa., Kellie lives with her husband, Gary, and their dog and two cats.
Follow her on Twitter @KelliePGates