By Randy LoBasso
There was little public fanfare when Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s bill establishing new parking regulations in the Mantua section of West Philadelphia passed, easily, in City Hall.
As any Philadelphian will tell you, parking is perhaps the most contentious issue in the entire city—and Blackwell has often acted as the commander-in-chief of parking wars, most recently fighting for a parking-minimums bill.
Her new legislation establishes no parking anytime along parts of Mantua Avenue, Ogden Street, and N. 37th Street, and new space for bicycling and walking.
The bill was the latest step toward establishing the Mantua Greenway: a green space for running, walking and cycling that will soon cut through the Mantua neighborhood of West Philadelphia. Blackwell’s legislation, which awaits the mayor’s approval at press time, will go into effect once the greenway is complete.
The story of the Mantua Greenway is one of a community coming together with the support of local, state and national organizations to realize a goal in everyone’s collective interests.
And it begins with Bessie Carter. A resident of Mantua Avenue for more than 60 years, Carter has seen the neighborhood’s ups and downs, and during a noted downturn, she decided to take some blighted community space into her own hands. That was in 2009.
Next to the railroad tracks that lie across the street from Carter’s house, there used to be a fenced-in empty lot filled with patches of tall grass and dying weeds.
So Carter, who could not be reached to comment on this story, planted a garden there, in honor of her parents, and began slowly beautifying the property. Soon, it became a beacon of the community. A plan was eventually concocted to build on Carter’s garden, and turn a several-block area into greenway space for everyone to share. Its entrance will begin at 34th Street and Mantua Avenue, near the zoo, and bring folks into Fairmount Park via Belmont Avenue.
De’Wayne Drummond, president of the Mantua Civic Association, sees the greenway as community-owned infrastructure that will bring Mantua residents together.
After all, the community has been part of the process the entire way, applying for grants and choosing concepts and designs.
“With the Mantua Greenway, we are going to bring back health and wellness to our community,” Drummond says. “Yes, cycling might be a vehicle, walking might be a vehicle, running might even be a vehicle, but [so is] Grandma and Grandson sitting down on a bench, having a[n]... intergenerational conversation. That’s what I think this greenway is going to bring to our community.”
Drummond notes the effort is part of a larger one to keep long-time Mantua residents in the community. Residents additionally worked with Blackwell to rezone the area to include more single-family housing, in order to slow gentrification and give the community more of a voice, Drummond notes. The community organizations also negotiated with Drexel University and Brandywine Realty to keep the Schuylkill Yards project from negatively impacting Mantua.
“My grandma always said if you want something, you write it down, you believe it, you speak it to life,” adds Drummond, “and after you speak it, you execute and implement it. We wrote it down, we believed it, we spoke it to life, and now it’s execution time. That’s the phase where we’re at right now.”