And I have one for you. The Philadelphia Citizens Planning Institute. Whoa, whoa, whoa - don't turn the page. I know, the name sounds a bit . . . sleepy. And spending a handful of Wednesday nights talking about zoning and development and land use might sound complicated or, let's be honest, snooze-worthy.
But these are all the things that can make or break neighborhoods like your own. The ones you clearly care a lot about or else you wouldn't spend so much time complaining about "this god--n city letting them go to s---."
When Joyce Smith moved onto the 4200 block of Viola Street in the East Parkside neighborhood six years ago, she could see it had some issues.
"It was pretty blighted," she said. "But I felt connected to it."
An already involved city resident, Smith was ready to jump in. She and neighbors formed the Viola Street Residents Association. They weren't shy about expressing their desires for their historical homes in the shadow of Fairmount Park. But Smith started looking around for other ways to address the abandoned houses and vacant lots.
The institute's course, organized by the city Planning Commission, was the formal training she needed to take a more active role in the fate of her neighborhood.
With what she learned during and the connections she made through the course, her neighborhood group came up with a proposal to deal with blight. With the help of L&I, they've forced some absentee landlords to clean up their properties. And they've reached out to developers to let them know that there is a very interested group of residents invested in the future of their neighborhood, thank you very much.
In other words, she and her neighbors have become a force to reckon with. The kind that can't be easily ignored.
"It's not just about being the squeaky wheel," Smith said. "It's about being the squeaky wheel who is also putting in the work."
Make no mistake, no one's giving a pass to city leaders or agencies who - in theory, anyway - are charged with responding to citizen complaints. But other than the realities of shrinking budgets and staff, there's something else we should remember: No one is ever going to be as invested in your street or your neighborhood as much as you are.
It would be awesome if the politicians we elect hopped to every complaint, if every city agency had enough people to deal with every issue, if every developer had the best interest of the neighborhoods in mind.
But based on the number of calls I get from people frustrated with getting nothing but crickets in response to their complaints, that's not going to happen. So, what do you say, Philly? You can just keep complaining. Or you can realize you have a lot more power to turn things around than you think.
The application deadline for the next class, which starts next month, is Sept. 25. The course is $100, but there are partial scholarships available for the 30 spots - plus they feed you! All the information you need can be found at citizensplanninginstitute.org or by calling 215-683-4640.
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