• Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.
      Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.

Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee's Clean Block Contest, Day 4

    • Ainé Ardron-Doley
      Ainé Ardron-Doley

The Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee’s (PMBC) Annual Clean Block Contest wrapped up last week, and today Ainé Ardron-Doley, one of this year's contest judges, shares her final dispatch from the judge’s trolley.  

Ainé and her sister Emaleigh are co-block captains of West Rockland Street, which was in the Clean Block Contest last year and won the Neighborhood Transformation Award. This year she received a letter inviting her to be a judge. She accepted.  

So far Ainé has brought us to beautiful blocks in Yorktown, Point Breeze, Kingsessing, and PennsportJuniata Park, Oxford Circle, Cobbs Creek, and East GermantownDunlap, Overbrook, Southwest Center City, and Germantown, searching for the cleanest, most organized block in the city. On the final day of judging the trolley stopped in Hunting Park, East Oak Lane, Cobbs Creek, Overbrook, and West Passyunk. Here's what Ainé saw on Day Four, and her reflection on the incredible work she witnessed traversing the city.

The Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee’s (PMBC) Annual Clean Block Contest wrapped up last week, and today Ainé Ardron-Doley, one of this year's contest judges, shares her final dispatch from the judge’s trolley. 

Ainé and her sister Emaleigh are co-block captains of West Rockland Street, which was in the Clean Block Contest last year and won the Neighborhood Transformation Award. This year she received a letter inviting her to be a judge. She accepted. 

So far Ainé has brought us to beautiful blocks in Yorktown, Point Breeze, Kingsessing, and PennsportJuniata Park, Oxford Circle, Cobbs Creek, and East Germantown, Dunlap, Overbrook, Southwest Center City, and Germantown, searching for the cleanest, most organized block in the city. On the final day of judging the trolley stopped in Hunting Park, East Oak Lane, Cobbs Creek, Overbrook, and West Passyunk. Here's what Ainé saw on Day Four, and her reflection on the incredible work she witnessed traversing the city.

The Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee’s Annual Clean Block Contest

Day Four: October 4

By Ainé Ardron-Doley
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

The top prize in the PMBC Clean Block Contest is a cool one thousand dollars. All of the blocks had ideas on how to spend their winnings. For one block it would be an investment in lighting to deter crime. Another had a similar goal of having security cameras installed to increase safety. Still another would use the money to string Christmas lights across the top of their entire block. Then there’s the wish to transform a vacant lot into a community garden and play area for the block’s many children. After four days of visiting the 17 contest blocks all over the city, it’s hardly about the money. It’s much more than that. It’s about being recognized for a job where many block captains field more complaints and gripes than the much-deserved “Thank you.”

There are a lot factors that propel a block forward or could cause it to fall behind. Location and income level are a big part of the equation but there are certain intangible factors that bolster a block’s chances of reaching it’s full potential. Contest blocks with greater homeownership and fewer rentals were in better overall shape. Streets that were able to rally around and engage the youth in decision-making and block activities were harder to come by and very impressive. Blocks with access to information and a direct line to city services (provided by the block captain or committee through newsletters, flyers, block meetings and word of mouth) had a leg up on those that did not. There were blocks that were plugged in to the tech side of the city and were skilled at using 311 to report problems. Despite many people’s fascination with all things technology, good old fashioned, back to basics grassroots organizing is still a must in 2012.

The Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee has come a long way since 1965 when it was part of the “Clean-Up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up” initiative. There are over 6,000 registered block captains in Philadelphia. They are the foot soldiers in the struggle to keep neighborhoods safe, healthy and thriving. Block Captains and organized blocks are absolutely on the front lines and in touch with their communities in the most hyperlocal way possible. While cornerstones of the community like churches, schools and solid business corridors are often the focus of development projects, the block itself should also be included as a jump off point for creating positive improvements. Block Captains are a dedicated, unsung and underutilized army that stands ready to change the city. If we can truly strengthen the partnership between citizens and city governement, Philadelphia could change from within and a transformation could begin from the ground up.

Day 4: October 4

4400 Block, North Orianna Street

Through the rain, 4400 N. Orianna had a huge turnout of block residents on their long Hunting Park block.

Block Captain Luisa Baerga reads the block history while residents and her Clean Block Officer Sandy Miranda listen. Block struggles include speeding cars and drugs.

The Puerto Rican flag flies in one house window. Orianna Street is diverse. Dominicans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and African-Americans work together to propel Orianna Street forward.

The residents of Orianna Street work to keep their block’s only vacant lot clean and well maintained. Citizen empowerment! DIY!

Dare to dream. The block hopes to turn this lot into a community garden or an area for the children that live on their street.

A sign of good things to come.

The block’s history told the stories of helping a blind neighbor who had her utilities cut off, raising $2,000 to help a block resident with funeral expenses and forming a Town Watch to take their neighborhood back from drugs.

There’s one vacant house on Orianna Street. Residents painted the porch and steps.

Sidewalks on this block have seen their day. This is the kind of infrastructure help that some Philly neighborhoods need assistance with.

A clean alley is a major achievement in Philadelphia!

The Block Captain proudly displays their block’s Town Watch service appreciation award. Neighbors supplied information to police that lead to the apprehension of a child predator in the neighborhood.

A long block with a lot of togetherness.



6100 Block, North 8th Street

Welcome to 6100 N. 8th Street in East Oak Lane. This is almost a secret little section of the city tucked away by Spencer Park.

Homes were built in the 1940’s and the block is filled with working folks like nurses, construction workers, plumbers, realtors, teachers and postal workers.

The oldest resident on the block is 97 and the youngest is just 6 weeks old. Like many of the blocks visited, it’s a melting pot with African-Americans, Koreans, Jamaicans, Italians and more.

Judges and residents walk this quiet, green block.

The stone houses on 8th Street sit back while their front gardens welcome you.

Thriving summer annuals: coleus, vinca and begonias.

Once again, imagining a clean, litter-free Philadelphia.

Block Captain Romona Harley on the left, reader of the block’s history on the right.



6000 Block, Webster Street

There’s something about West Philly. The 6000 block of Webster Street residents waved this banner at the entry to their street as the trolley arrived.

Building started in 1927 on the 61 two-story, four-bedroom homes on Webster Street. There are 57 homeowners and 4 rental properties.

6000 Webster Street is a predominately African-American block. This summer the block hosted a Health Fair for their block and neighboring blocks. Neighbors were able to have their blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol checked.

Block Captain Denise Lewis reads their 4-page block history! Residents go on trips together, provide the elderly with absentee ballots, host movie nights for children, have a buddy system for looking after the elders and have formed a Town Watch. Organized!

12-year-old Junior Block Captain Maxine Johnson poses in front of their block’s only vacant house. Yes, this is a vacant house that Maxine and her neighbors worked to spruce up. DIY!

The only vacant property on Webster Street.

There have been some recent burglaries and robberies on the block. Webster Street formed a Town Watch and has been working to get more lighting on the block.

Gardens are plentiful on the block.

Freshly painted wrought iron.

Block Captain Denise Lewis and resident Rashida Brooks. Hard work on the block is a year round commitment.

The block rallied around the theme of fighting breast cancer. Judges and residents in front of the PMBC trolley on 6000 Webster Street.



5600 Block, Stewart Street

Fourth tour stop of the day, on the 5600 block of Stewart Street in West Philly, out of 51 two-story row homes, 2 are for sale, 3 are empty and there’s about 85% homeownership.

Stewart Street has been an organized block since the 1960’s! The block has a newsletter that informs residents about what’s discussed at meetings. It also includes information about help for seniors, employment, food share programs and more.

A stunning Canna flower on Stewart Street.

Photos of different celebrations and activities held over the years.

The copy of the Stewart Street block history.

Block Captain and residents work hard to build community on their block. Make sure to visit at Christmas time because they have a light contest and the block will be very lit up!

Each year Stewart Street has two block parties, a Christmas party, a senior appreciation dinner and a flea market.

Front yard hot peppers growing strong in October.

A sad reality in our city. This is a resident that Stewart Street lost to gun violence earlier this year.

The block captain, right, with Judge Lori Hayes of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.



1800 Block, Ritner Street

The 1800 block of Ritner Street in South Philly was decked out in red, white and blue. They united around the theme of “American Pride.”

Without front yards, Ritner Street uses planters to bring flowers to the block.

Block Treasurer Joe Ferriola reads the block history. Block Captain Gene Cella and their district’s clean block officer listen from the steps.

A display of events and gatherings on the block: Wedding celebrations, birthdays and serenades!

The block captain holds up their block’s new sign and ceremonious broom and butler. Pride.

Trees can make or break a neighborhood. This is one of the new trees planted on Ritner Street.

Another spectacularly clean alley. This is an amazing feat.

There are 48 two-story row homes with about 110 residents on Ritner Street. The homes were built around 1915 and this block boasts 100% home ownership.

A contest judge and Ritner Street resident.

Hibiscus.

A block resident played a piano that was pumped through the speakers while judges and residents walked the block.

Old glory and the begonias.


About the author

Aine Doley

Ainé Ardron-Doley is a block captain, writer, and gardener. She works in tandem with her sister and co-block captain Emaleigh to document their block’s progress and struggles on www.RocklandStreet.com. By day, and often night, Ainé is an experiential and event marketer. 


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