The Mill Creek neighborhood in West Philadelphia is one of the most transformed neighborhoods in all of Philadelphia. Over the years, it’s has seen massive redevelopment, especially the rebuilding of the troubled Mill Creek Apartments by the Philadelphia Housing Authority into the Blackwell Homes. The redevelopment in Mill Creek has led to private development, particularly several developments at 48th and Brown Streets. Now, the long-awaited Lucien E. Blackwell Community Center is going to soon be built on a large vacant lot at 47th Street and Fairmount Avenue. Like the Blackwell homes, the Lucien E. Blackwell Community Center is named after the former Councilman, State Senator, and Congressman Lucien E. Blackwell, a local legend in West Philadelphia and the late husband of Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, herself a living legend in the neighborhood. Besides being honored with his name on neighborhood landmarks in Mill Creek, he is immortalized by a Haverford Avenue mural depicting him shaking hands with President Jimmy Carter, President Bill Clinton, and President Nelson Mandela.
The community center will be 13,000 square feet. It will have a basketball gym with bleachers. It will, also, have meeting rooms, offices, and a demonstration kitchen which will be used for cooking classes. The Housing Authority is still seeking funds for the project, and would like to include classrooms and a computer lab, like most community centers of its size. The hope is for the Blackwell Community Center to be a neighborhood resource for job training, after school programs, business planning, recreation, and community events. The grounds will include landscaping and at least 28 new trees. An existing community garden will be moved across Aspen Street. The Housing Authority and community groups plan to convert the block at 47th and Aspen Streets, also a vacant lot, into a community park. The Blackwell Community Center has been approved for a new sign and landscaping by the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The City Planning Commission has, also, approved zoning changes for the site.
The Lucien E. Blackwell Community Center has been a long time in coming. It was envisioned as part of a deal in 2007 between the Street Administration and Councilwoman Blackwell to allow the city’s Youth Study Center detention facility to move to her district from its former site on the Ben Franklin Parkway, where the Barnes Foundation is currently located. Budget cuts and economic turmoil delayed the construction, but now it is going to begin construction soon. It will be another piece in the puzzle of improvement for Mill Creek, which has not only seen new housing construction, but also a new building for West Philadelphia High School, a new athletic field on 46th Street, a big new shopping center at 52nd and Jefferson Streets, and a new Children’s Hospital health clinic at 48th and Market Streets. These neighborhood improvements have led to new construction at 48th and Brown Streets, including the Brown Street Lofts and the East Village apartments. Around the corner, a formerly vacant apartment complex at 49th and Aspen Streets has been renovated for market rate apartments, as well. The new Blackwell Community Center will only complement these developments and increase demand and development opportunities in Mill Creek.
By, Gabriel Gottlieb