When looking for their future home, Bucks County native Samantha Nestor and Andrew Haneiko, originally from Northeast Philly, were not even considering South Philly.
“Wait a second, South Philly is actually awesome,” Haneiko said they realized upon finding a home in an up-and-coming neighborhood.
The couple moved to 15th and Dickinson streets five years ago. They wanted to be active in the community, so began attending Point Breeze meetings during the summer of 2005, but their interests — geared more toward greening and recycling as opposed to senior assistance programs and caring for Point Breeze Avenue — were not heard.
“We felt if there was a zoning meeting that the neighbors just yelled and screamed,” Haneiko said. “Nothing seemed to be getting accomplished. We were all like ‘what’s happening?’”
Someone even told the couple they didn’t reside in Point Breeze, Nestor said of the boundaries that technically span Broad to 25th streets, Washington Avenue to Mifflin Street.
“We talked about it after the meeting,” she said. “The things they’re dealing with along Point Breeze Avenue aren’t things we deal with in our daily lives. … The area they were trying to cover was so broad. We though it would be more productive if we made it a little smaller.”
In a city of 1.5 million people, neighbors often work together to accomplish small-scale goals such as greening with in their neighborhood groups. Some have been in existence for decades while others have developed more recently, but with a dozen covering the same neighborhood, tensions have arisen among them.
In ’07, Haneiko and Nestor began meeting with neighbors who had similar ideals at one another’s homes to form Newbold Neighbors Association that spans Broad to 18th streets, Washington to Passyunk avenues and was named for the former name of Hicks Street.
“A few neighbors would get together, eat at each others houses — potluck, get together for drinks and we would talk about how to organize more,” Farrell Lines, who moved to the 1400 block of Tasker Street five years ago with Rebecca Maury and their now 6-year-old son, William, said.
The gatherings have evolved into monthly meetings, addressing community issues and expanding its 300-person membership.
“Just providing a place for people to meet and a sense of identity, having e-mails that go out, a sense of progress that we’re working to improve this neighborhood together,” Lines, a native of New Mexico, said.
“It feels a lot less like lonely pioneers from when we moved here,” Maury, originally from Washington D.C., added.
However, some Point Breeze groups are unhappy with the intrusion on their turf. Claudia Sherrod, executive director of South Philly HOMES Inc., 1444 Point Breeze Ave., which has served the neighborhood for 45 years, and Alice Shockley, vice president of Neighbors in Action Association that covers Washington Avenue to Reed Street, Broad to 18th, want new residents to form bonds with existing groups.
“You are only going to get so much unless you come together and work together as a community,” Sherrod, of 21st and Federal streets, said. “We have the same concerns as [Newbold Neighbors’ members] have. It might be deeper because we’ve been doing it longer.”
John Longacre saw potential in the neighborhood that now boasts his numerous properties.
So he bought, renovated and rented properties to employees of the South Philadelphia Tap Room, 1509 Mifflin St., which opened in ’03, and established the Newbold Community Development Corp., a name that was created at the bar, he said.
“We came up with it because we felt this neighborhood lacked identification, Longacre said of the area of Tasker to Wolf, Broad to 18th.
“We defined a very small perimeter for the Newbold CDC. “The perimeter was cerebral in nature because it specifically did not cross over the boundaries of any other civic association.”
The corporation allowed a civic to bear its name: Newbold Civic Association, led by co-founder and former president Lynda O’Leary, of 15th and Jackson streets, in ’06.
“We did not create Newbold to move into Point Breeze,” Longacre, who recently moved to Mifflin and Mole streets, said. “We did not want anything to do with zoning in Point Breeze, economic development in Point Breeze, any decisions in Point Breeze.”
Newbold Civic overlaps a four-by-four block of Point Breeze whereas Newbold Neighbors crosses the other Newbold and Point Breeze.
“They’ve tried to carve it out in a different way and kind of split us,” Lines said of Newbold Civic. “That’s probably how Point Breeze feels about Newbold.”
While Newbold Neighbors has made strives in its community, Shockley does not approve of it not working alongside Neighbors in Action, which was established in 1984.
“You cannot disrespect us,” the Point Breeze native said. “You have to come to us and say, ‘we would like to do this with you, not over you.’”
Neighbors in Action may have become less active as its members have aged, but the group does participate in planting trees among other greening initiatives, Shockley, who has most recently met with Newbold Neighbors’volunteers earlier this year, said.
“We had a meeting at that time and we told them Neighbors In Action is here and we’re willing to work with them, but you can’t come and tell us this is Newbold,” she said.
The initial conversations with the Point Breeze groups occurred with a couple that has since moved, Beth Mohan Resta, who resides with husband Jim and 13-week-old daughter Lucinda on the 1500 block of Tasker, said.
“They worked with us pretty well in the beginning,” Mohan Resta, who serves as Newbold Neighbors’ treasurer while her husband is its president, said. “I can’t really understand exactly what’s going on. … We’re totally open to working together. We never would have organized if there would have been a way to get involved with a group that was working toward the same objectives.”
Newbold Neighbors has teamed up with other groups to form the Central South Philly Civic Association Alliance, as well as South Philly Green to collaborate for various projects, she added.
One of those groups includes Point Breeze Pioneers, co-founded by Antoinette Johnson and named in honor of the late Point Breeze pioneer, Mamie Nichols. Due to its walkability and proximity to Center City, Johnson moved to the 1900 block of Manton Street three years ago with her fiancé, Tyler Westnedge, whose grandmother grew up in Point Breeze. Her group has also encountered resistance, she said.
“Given [Point Breeze’s] current economic state and state of neighborhood neglect you would think community groups would be willing to divvy it up in a way that is more manageable,” Johnson said.
Point Breeze meetings commonly turn into screaming matches and the same few leaders speaking up, she said.
“With these seemingly three to four individuals speaking on behalf of Point Breeze in a negative, opposing way, I think Point Breeze is staying in the state of neglect it is now or will get worse. …” Johnson, who owns a home-based advertising agency, said. “It’s an economic phenomenon that Point Breeze be as close to Center City as it is and look like a third-world country in some ways.”
Sherrod, a South of South native residing in Point Breeze for more than 40 years, noted its diversity is nothing new. But she also expressed a willingness to work with everyone.
“If it’s something building the community, I don’t have a problem working with them,” she said. “I work with anyone. It doesn’t matter if they’re old or new.”
And the fresh faces of the area are happy to work alongside other groups, but want the freedom to add their own spin to the neighborhood.
“It is a nice neighborhood, and it was before we moved in,” Nestor said “We’re just kind of tailoring it to things that we’re interested in.”
And the Newbold residents are putting their energy in a community where they plan to raise their family and live for years to come, Mohan Resta said.
“I haven’t had the chance to live here for 30 years yet, but I plan to live here for the next 30 years,” she said. SPR
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