Our group consisting of Jake, Justin, Kyndall, and Cara have studied the Strawberry Mansion section of Philadelphia throughout the Fall 2016 Semester at Saint Joseph’s University. This was a joint effort between our Civic Media and Crime and Urban Communities classes. We combined our skill sets and backgrounds to firstly document the homicides within the community. Explore our StoryMap, which highlights and memorializes homicide victims within this community over the past few months. The victims of these homicides were Damon Swain, Jayvon Mitchell-Pendleton, Phillip Miller, Eric Bright, Nafees Johnson, and Angelo Walker.
To gain a better understanding of the Strawberry Mansion community, we took the time to interview someone that lives and leads within the community. Rev. Steve Thoryn is the Pastor at St. Martinde Porres , a Catholic Parish located on Lehigh Avenue. Watch his interview below, where he explains the changing climate of the community, gentrification, quality of life and the future. Listen to his suggestions to rid the permeation of violence such as a community center and developing partnerships with surrounding organizations. He also discusses his experience with dealing with incarcerated people and their adjustment to community life.
Socioeconomic History- Understanding the Community
Coming to terms with the high volume of homicides and violence is possible after studying the socioeconomic history of the community. Strawberry Mansion has experienced serious demographic and socioeconomic shifts since its unofficial establishment 136 years ago when the name changed from the original “Summerville.” The West Philly neighborhood was initially dominated by Jewish and working class populations and was known for its easy access by way of trolley to many Philadelphian recreational destinations such as Shibe Park, Fairmount Park, and the Philadelphia Zoo.
After 1950 the demographics experienced a major shift in the form of northern migration by African American communities. The cities policies such as increased taxes and union contracts put a strain under the well off Jewish populations causing them to move to the suburbs. Southern African American communities who had moved northward purchased the row homes of the Jewish populations and took jobs in the industrial centers of Philadelphia.
During this time the area underwent a spiked and sustained crime rate as well as a period of urban decay and poverty. Low city funding has led to inadequate policing and poor public service programs. There have been improvements in funding in recent times found here on the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s website.
Gentrification has affected the western and southern borders of Strawberry Mansion, especially in the Fairmount Park and Brewerytown areas. Dueto the gentrification that has began surrounding the town since the mid 2000s, the price of neighborhood homes has recently increased. Learn more about the history of this community here. The United States Census provided an in-depth report on factors such as income, population and poverty, found here.
Indicators- Why is the community crime ridden?
The neighborhood of Strawberry Mansion has had a problem with drugs and drug-related crimes. This has been a problem because of the access to the illegal substances has grown to a high rate from exchanges between individuals. While there are efforts to move away from the stigma around illegal substances, fortunately there are programs within the community to help individuals steer away from drugs, such as the Stop and Surrender, Inc. This program supports those who have addictions and offers a one-year program. As of early-November of 2015, the program had 108 participants.
This slide show gives a great graphic representation of the indicator of drug addiction, with relation to age and ethnicity within the community.
Other indicators of possible crime in the Strawberry Mansion area is due to existing poverty, budget cuts and the education rate amongst the younger population. Strawberry Mansion developed ahigh school in 1977 of the same name as the neighborhood. Around the early 1990’s, 65% of students were from low- income families and a high percentage of students were high school dropouts. In May of 2013, the high school had around 435 students which only 92 of these students were in graduating classes and 55 of these students were accepted to universities and community colleges.
Strawberry Mansion High School was saved from being shut down because of Philadelphia budget cuts closing down a number of schools. This contributes to the factor of spending and how it affects the city of Philadelphia, and the community of Strawberry Mansion.. For many years, Strawberry Mansion High School was on the “ persistently dangerous high schools.” Recently in 2013, it was finally removed. Today, it is located in a school building with a capacity of 1,762 students and 249,000 square feet in space. Watch the piece below from ABC News highlighting the school.
The amount of violent crimes per 100,000 people and property crimes per 100,000 people was noted higher than the national average in 2015 respectively. In the year of 2015, it was recorded that there were 5,762 incidents as an estimate for total crime in Strawberry Mansion, made up of an estimated 1,420 violent crimes and 4,343 property crimes. These numbers are extremely high, and are from a number of possible reasons. Poverty and addictions may be contributing factors to this violence, like the six homicides highlighted in the story map, occurring in this neighborhood.