Back On The Block: Speaking Up For Hurley Street

Jeff Deeney’s recent Philadelphia Weekly cover story on Hurley Street has provided a fulcrum upon which several important and constructive conversations about the city’s future — and more urgently, its present — are tilting back and forth. Was it a realistic portrayal of the desperate straits in which poor families are forced to live, or a hatchet job on a section of the city which can still lay claim to many safe and stable residential blocks? Is it more important for the city’s next mayor to understand the problems or to solve them? Is it too little to simply expect the former, and too much to expect the latter? Today, Deeney checks in with another Hurley Street family.


deeneythumbnail.jpgBY JEFF DEENEY

Mark Lutz moved to the 3200 block of Hurley Street in May of 1984, and he still lives there, with his daughter Shana, who is 19. Back in ’84, Hurley was your average Kensington block, packed tight with working-class families; the block was quiet despite the McVeigh Rec Center around the corner, on D Street and Ontario, which was a little loud and rowdy even then.

The only thing Mark remembers cluttering the sidewalk were leaves in the fall that blew over from adjacent streets. A bulky former Army reservist with close-cropped hair and a tail that comes to the nape of his neck, Mark has worked as a screen-printer for the past 14 years. All the streets around Hurley, from D Street all the way over to B and Cambria, were safe and well-maintained until around 15 years ago. He can’t remember exactly when but somewhere along the way things changed, almost overnight. The drugs came, the trash started piling up on the sidewalks.


“In Philadelphia, in general people don’t care,” Mark says, “but there’s no excuse for getting sucked into it.”deeneypw.jpg


The bond between Mark and his daughter Shana is clearly a close one. Shana’s mother was a drug addict, so the young woman leaned on her father pretty heavily growing up, and his loving guidance has clearly paid off. Shana Lutz graduated from Community Education Partners High School at Front Street and Hunting Park Avenue with a 3.9 GPA. She’s been saving money for college and plans to start at CCP majoring in early childhood education in January.


“I didn’t want to become what I seen on the streets,” she says.


I asked Mark how he feels about Hurley Street’s portrayal in the PW article. He says that parking on the street tends to turn over around 9 a.m. and has for a long time — a sign to him that more people in the neighborhood are working or otherwise constructively engaged than the article made it seem. He agrees that roping the street off every day in the summer is excessive, and doesn’t think that the block captain (who he says is self-appointed and, he believes, usually ‘dippin’,” or high on heroin, when he sees her) has a permit. Mark applied to have the street designated a play street in 1984 and was turned down by the city because of the block’s close proximity to the McVeigh Rec Center. He noted that the sign hanging from the rope this summer didn’t have a city seal on it.


On the story’s portrayal of spiraling urban violence: “I think it’s pretty accurate for Philly overall, but honestly, I feel safer in Kensington than I do in parts of the Northeast. At least here if there’s a problem there’s always a cop around the corner. It’s getting just as bad in parts of the Northeast and there, a cop might not respond for an hour. I think you’d be crazy to go to Southwest Philadelphia at night with all the shootings. I think about Southwest Philly when you ask me about a bad neighborhood.”


What does he consider a first step towards making the streets safer?


“Nobody fears the police any more. In the Rizzo administration, cops could rough you up and people knew it. Back then the police [got] more respect.”


Shana says she’s not afraid of the thugs in her neighborhood. She’s adapted to the way things are but would like to see things change for the better. What would Shana say if she had a chance to talk to likely future mayor Michael Nutter, on whom so much of the city’s hope for change presently hangs.”


“We need a hands-on mayor. We need somebody to help. We don’t need another official who just wears the title like a badge. We need someone who’s out here, finding out what these neighborhoods need, and then making sure the changes happen.”


Edited to add:

We emailed Shana’s comments to Nutter’s campaign and late this afternoon, received this response:

Shana, I think you’re absolutely right. The Mayor of Philadelphia needs to be the Mayor of the whole city; each and every neighborhood. During this campaign I’ve traveled to every section of this city and have seen the different problems that face each community. If I am elected Mayor I will continue to be out there in our neighborhoods, meeting the people, hearing their concerns and making sure that we take action to address them.

Thanks for getting back to us, Mike, and if you’re looking for an intern, we know this really smart girl named Shana . . . See you in the neighborhoods!

PREVIOUSLY: The Trouble With Deeney

Showdown On Hurley Street

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