A mayor gets a show-and-tell and a neighborhood gets a long-awaited miracle

PHOTOS: HELEN UBIÑAS / DAILY NEWS STAFF Persistence and creativity (and a little more persistence) paid off for the women of Sydenham Street, whose road was repaired a week after they flagged down Mayor Nutter in their neighborhood.
PHOTOS: HELEN UBIÑAS / DAILY NEWS STAFF Persistence and creativity (and a little more persistence) paid off for the women of Sydenham Street, whose road was repaired a week after they flagged down Mayor Nutter in their neighborhood.
Posted: September 20, 2013

JUST DAYS after the feisty women of the 3000 block of North Sydenham Street led the mayor on an impromptu show-and-tell, their neighborhood got some long-overdue attention.

"Look what happens when you open your mouth to the right people," said Lorraine Falligan.

The right person in this case was Mayor Nutter, whom the women plotted to get on their street as soon as he came to their neighborhood last week to host a ceremony for a new basketball court.

One minute the big guy was wrapping up the festivities and heading to his car, the next he was getting an ear- and eyeful from the women. It happened that fast. And so did the response to complaints the women had been making for years.

The crumbling house next door to where a grandmother is raising six grandkids? Within hours of the mayor's visit, the women told me, a notice of demolition went up. Boom.

The busted-up streets? Exactly a week after, residents were awakened by an envoy of trucks that started to repair them. Double boom.

Joetta Johnson called me first thing that morning to let me know they were there.

"They're fixing the street," she said. "It's a miracle."

A miracle: It's interesting how often residents who have to fight for basic services use that term when they finally break through the bureaucratic iron curtain that separates city residents and the agencies that are supposed to help them. Miracle, my foot.

When I stopped by to check on the progress, the ladies were understandably thrilled. But they also know not to pop the cork on the champagne just yet. The sidewalks that were torn up for some repairs made underneath years earlier were still a mess. And the women were curious about the order of things. Shouldn't the sidewalks be repaired before the streets, and shouldn't the house be demolished before any of that? Fair warning, Mayor Nutter: These women aren't going to stop until everything is done just right.

"We don't want to be pacified," Falligan said. "We're not looking for a Band-Aid. We're looking for these issues to be fixed once and for all."

And being the carpe-diem types, the women wasted no time taking me for another walk around the neighborhood to show me even more problems that need fixing. As they filled me in on an overwhelming list of outstanding issues, I thought a lot about what makes things happen in this city.

As happy as I was for these women, I wondered why it so often takes shaming city officials or agencies to get things done around here. Some residents are lucky, or relentless, enough to get the mayor or a reporter's ear. Many more are not. So, are they just out there in the wind waiting on their own miracle? In a city with increasing needs and decreasing resources, miracles are less about divine intervention and more about persistence and creativity . . . and persistence.

The day before those paving trucks hit that North Philly neighborhood, I was in a City Hall courtroom with Heather Evans, another frustrated resident I've been writing about. Evans, who's been dealing with a tax-delinquent neighbor whose neglected property is damaging her East Passyunk Avenue home and becoming increasingly dangerous, finally got her day in court.

After a lot of hallway mediation, she and her neighbor hammered out an agreement for him to get his act together in 30 days. Fingers and toes crossed on that one.

The judge looked amused when Evans and her neighbor appeared before the judge with an L&I inspector and a couple of big names from the city Law Department's housing and code unit.

"Why such a distinguished group of people today?" he asked.

I was too far back to hear if anyone answered. But from where I was sitting, the answer was obvious.

Because Evans, the woman who nervously explained that she only wanted her neighbor to repair his house so it would stop damaging hers, wouldn't take no for an answer.

Because even when her neighbor and city officials ignored her, she wouldn't let up.

Because she fought long and hard for her miracle.

Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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