No Philly Shrug at the land bank hearing

ASSOCIATED PRESS Philadelphians are forced to walk through blighted neighborhoods, but a land bank could be the key to improving decaying properties.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Philadelphians are forced to walk through blighted neighborhoods, but a land bank could be the key to improving decaying properties.
Posted: October 30, 2013

NOW THIS, Philly, is what I'm talking about.

Outside City Hall yesterday, on a nippy fall morning, a crowd of residents were lined up. And that line led to another to get inside City Council chambers. And chambers itself was standing-room-only for a while before the overflow was sent to a fifth-floor room that filled up nicely, too. (Last time that happened, the unions had turned out to boo and hiss the mayor.)

Where was this crowd headed? A land-bank hearing. Yup, that's what I said: a public hearing on a land bank to deal with the thousands of vacant properties that are dragging this city down.

The crowd caught so many off guard one guy looking for a courtroom wondered aloud if the city was giving away money.

Reporters, who usually have little company at these bureaucratic proceedings, were almost giddy at the display of civic involvement.

"Is this line into City Hall because of the #phillycouncil land-bank hearing?" WHYY's Holly Otterbein tweeted. "Dorkiest city ever," she joked.

Dorky, maybe. Fed up, absolutely. And better yet, not a Philly Shrug to be found.

Not one person dismissing the scourge of blight as just life in the city of Brotherly Love, not one "whaddya gonna do?" uttered about the more than 40,000 properties that cost millions in lost tax revenue.

Residents, many of whom wore their support of a streamlined land bank on T-shirts and buttons, were present and passionate. They were engaged and informed. They were even rightly suspicious of some parts of the proposal, especially about who would control the land bank, and just how transparent the process would be.

Tiffany Green, of Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze, wants a subcommittee of residents to have a say in what is done with vacant lots in their neighborhoods. She, for one, is tired of lots being converted to community gardens.

Look, mush isn't my thing, but that crowd was a beautiful sight - one of the most beautiful things I've seen since moving here and noticing the dreaded Philly Shrug.

People just looking on while a cop gets his butt handed to him by a fare-evading mope, that's the Philly Shrug. People watching an obviously incompetent building demolition day after day until it collapses and kills six people. That's the Philly Shrug.

On a daily basis, the crime and litter and overall B.S. so many of us get so used to that it doesn't even faze us anymore - that's the Philly Shrug that's ruining the city.

Philadelphians shrug off all kinds of things. Corruption, crime, litter. But nothing - nada - says Philly Shrug the way blight does. Because blight begets vandalism and crime and apathy that infests a neighborhood and a city.

It doesn't happen overnight. As Constance Morrow testified, the city's blight epidemic has been generations in the making.

Morrow, who lives on the 2300 block of Germantown Ave., was one of many residents who passionately testified about the impact of vacant lots near their homes and businesses.

"There's not ever a moment that I can escape the filth, the trash, on both sides of the block. . . . I call 3-1-1 so many times that now they know me by my voice. The thing I hate the most about this it is I feel like my grandchildren are living the same way I did."

The bill was approved by the committee, but there is still a long road ahead. A lot has to be settled about the role of the Vacant Property Review Committee's and Council member's prerogative, that rat's nest of an unwritten agreement that Council members have final say over land use in their districts.

The goal here should be that everyone walks away a little unhappy with the final version - then maybe the land bank is mostly good for everyone.

But regardless of what remains to be done, it's important to stop long enough to appreciate what happened inside City Hall yesterday.

Let's keep it going. The campaign to stop the Philly Shrug is now on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. Let's not lose this momentum.

Not shrugging looks good on you, Philly.


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

" @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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