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Walking in an urban wonderland

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In Center City, sightseeing tours usually are reserved for visitors to the City of Brotherly Love.

But last week, city representatives from an array of municipal agencies descended on Port Richmond for an afternoon tour to seek out and address problem spots.

Organized by D. Michael Blackie, facilitator for the Port Richmond West Community Action Network, the Dec. 15 event attracted representatives from the Department of Licenses and Inspections, the city’s Community Life Improvement Program, New Kensington Community Development Corp. and the 24th Police District. They moved through the neighborhood while keeping an eye out for issues of concern.

Blackie said he decided to organize the tour after taking note of such issues as vacant lots and squatters inhabiting abandoned properties during his own late-night walks through the area.

ldquo;You should come out here with me at 3 a.m.,” he told others in the tour group.

His primary mission was to escort officials around the neighborhood to point out properties or situations that he perceived as possible L&I violations. Blackie’s tour headed down Wishart Street and along the Conrail-owned land that snakes back along Martha Street.

Blackie said he believes the area is plagued with problem properties. At a large vacant lot at Martha and Lippincott streets, Blackie turned to point to a hill where, he said, drug users often hide in the waist-high weeds to get high.

As Blackie spoke, Felix Serrano, who said he lived on Lippincott with his girlfriend, joined the group. Serrano illustrated Blackie’s concerns by pointing toward some shadows moving in the lot.

ldquo;Look, there they go right there . . . they saw you and now they are trying to hide,” Serrano said, as two men ducked through the weedy lot and moved deeper into the overgrowth.

ldquo;We need to do something; there needs to be cameras back here,” said Serrano.

On a stretch of Lippincott Street, civic pride was noticeable as homes along the block — in an area where many abandoned and shuttered homes fill the streetscape — were decorated for the holidays.

As the touring city reps turned the corner from this quiet block and headed onto Amber Street at Bellmore Street, they were greeted by the sight of a torched and abandoned van.

The hunk of junk had been there for more than a month, Blackie said. And yet, while such concerns need to be addressed, many who took part in the tour said it did little to shine new light on problem properties in Port Richmond.

To L&I inspector Brent Brickley, many of the issues he noted were emblematic of issues visible throughout the city.

ldquo;This kind of thing exists everywhere,” he said, suggesting that the best way to tackle problems like trash-littered lots or overgrown sites might be for neighbors to take it upon themselves to clean up the areas.

ldquo;A lot of times, it’s the trash from the guy who lives next door or two houses down,” said Brickley. “It takes a whole community. You’ve got to have full involvement.”

As for Blackie, he wanted the governmental entourage to get a closer look at the neighborhood. Too often, the area is overlooked, he said, and it needs better access to city services.

ldquo;I wanted to show them this whole area west of Aramingo (Avenue),” said Blackie. “It’s blighted . . . it’s time to shine a light on all these properties that are under the shadow of Conrail.” ••

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