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Mantua Transformation Plan unveiled to the community

June 5, 2013

On Tuesday, over 70 residents packed into the small classroom at the West Philadelphia Community Center in Mantua to hear updates, ask questions, and offer feedback on the final draft of the Mantua Transformation Plan.

The meeting was hosted by the Mantua Civic Association (MCA), a newer organization that was created by residents out of the planning process.

Dewayne Drummond at WAM Unveiling

DeWayne Drummond, president of MCA welcomed the crowd. Michael Thorpe then summarized the plan’s context. Thorpe is president of Mount Vernon Manor, the affordable housing developer that received the HUD Choice planning grant to create the plan for Mantua. “We have to be unified. When our community is organized, we can get things done and make the changes we want in Mantua,” Thorpe said.

Resident engagement and leadership development was a significant part of the process. Residents and stakeholders joined task forces to contribute recommendations in terms of priorities and action items. Over 200 residents contributed to the final recommendations captured in the plan, said community engagement specialist Donna Griffin, who was hired by LISC.

Vinte Clemons DB4 at WAM Unveiling

The presentation highlighted some early victories of the planning process:

  • Through the renovation of the Mt Vernon Manor apartments, 75 units of affordable housing were preserved in Mantua. Another 48 units are set to be renovated during Phase II of the project.
  • Establishing a Civic Association was the number one priority for Mantua residents in terms of civic engagement. With Technical Assistance from LISC, a resident task force helped establish the Mantua Civic Association, which elected its first set of leaders in 2012. MCA now meets monthly, already has 47 paid members and attracts over 70 attendees regularly to its meetings.
  • Residents identified the need for youth sports programs, and Mantua In Action was established last year to meet this need. MIA provides after school and summer sports programming to 150 Mantua youth in grades 5-8 at three locations, including McMichael School.
  • “We need to make an investment in Mantua’s youth because they are the future leaders of Mantua,” said Donna Griffin. In 2012, LISC helped WAM hire a part-time youth organizer to assemble a youth advisory committee. “My idea was to make a change,” said organizer Vinte Clemons, who started the group Da Bottom For… (DB4). Since then, DB4 has met every Wednesday evening for the past year and a half. DB4 helped recruit students to join the Mantua In Action program, conducted door-to-door outreach, and held events for youth and young adults, such as a Stop the Violence BBQ and free HIV/AIDS screenings.
  • For better health, residents want more diverse food options, more gardens, and better access to healthcare. “Pretty much everyone wants a new supermarket,” said Griffin.
  • Residents identified three ways to make Mantua safer: address hot spots, build leadership capacity at the block level, and create drug free zones. The planning team was able to secure funding from the Justice Department’s Byrne program to support an innovative, community-based safety and crime reduction strategy in Mantua (LISC national is providing Technical Assistance for Byrne grantees nationally).
  • Residents also clarified their desire for better education opportunities for children and adults. Thanks to efforts by Drexel University, the McMichael Community Home School Association, Mantua In Action, and We Are Mantua!, the Philadelphia School District voted to keep McMichael School open. “We could not have saved McMichael school if we had not been organized, if we could not have told this story,” said Thorpe.

crowd watches WAM unveiling

The presentation also highlighted some recommendations around physical development from the planning team:

  • Create a stronger “civic core” – an identifiable cultural center or downtown for the Mantua community between 34th and 38th Street.
  • Create a construction apprenticeship program that connects housing development to skill development for jobless youth and young adults in Mantua. Mount Vernon Manor is interested in incorporating this program into their housing development plans.
  • Develop affordable homeownership units on existing disconnected vacant lots.
  • On adjacent vacant lots, work with PHA and other affordable housing developers to create affordable rental options.
  • Turn Haverford Ave into Mantua’s downtown corridor, with a supermarket, parks, affordable homeownership units, and a mix of retail.
  • Turn Mantua Ave into the neighborhood’s “front yard” by creating a greenway, featuring walking and biking paths, lights, trees, and community banners.

Vinte Clemons DB4 at WAM Unveiling2

In this community, where the motto “Plan or Be Planned For” has been repeated among residents for decades, there were a lot of questions and concerns after the presentation. Luckily, residents still have time to weigh in on the final draft.

Thorpe encouraged more participation and support in implementing the plan: “This plan needs to remain flexible, needs to change as we move forward,” he reminded. “It’s up to everyone in the community, working together to keep this plan alive.”

 

Also see Mantua: Transformation Plan Concludes, Citizens’ Efforts Continue on the Philadelphia Neighborhoods blog.

 

Stay tuned for the Community Celebration Dinner next week!

We Are Mantua! Plan Unveiling 6/4/13 – Flyer

We Are Mantua! Plan Completion Community Celebration Dinner 6/11/13 – Flyer

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