North Philadelphia residents host a Labor Day block party every year at 15th and Page streets, but it wasn’t until 22 years ago that students were first invited in an effort to welcome them to the neighborhood.
Gregory Bonaparte, 60, has lived on 15th Street near Fontain for 40 years and worked at Temple as a maintenance worker for 23 years. He was one of the people who initiated this mingling of students and neighbors more than two decades ago.
“The community used to host the block party, but students weren’t aware of it when it happened,” he said. “We wanted to welcome them with a relationship so they wouldn’t feel like visitors.”
The Labor Day block party is now a collaboration between Campus Safety Services and the neighborhood. Campus Safety Services provides the food and the block captains organize the event by getting block party permissions from the city.
On Monday afternoon, about 50 residents, students and university employees met on a lot on the corner of 15th and Page streets for hot dogs, hamburgers, Siddiq’s water ice and other traditional summer treats. Children zipped up and down the street on their bikes and a DJ played music for the partygoers.
Students were invited to stay at the block party from noon until 4 p.m., but the party continued for residents until 8 p.m.
Some of the students and other non-residents in attendance said they hadn’t had many experiences with the community.
Chen Jin, a 2013 master’s marketing research alumnus, came with one of his friends. He said he did not engage with the community during his time at Temple, but said the block party was a way to “create balance between the community and Temple.”
Longtime residents said they have seen many changes to the neighborhood over the years. Milton Pollard, 62, who lives on Bouvier Street near Montgomery Avenue, has lived on and off in North Philadelphia since 1956.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes, I’m all for changes,” he said. “It’s starting to mellow out somewhat.”
Pollard said there are “good students and not-so-good students,” but those who usually behave disruptively are usually the ones who have “never been away from home.”
He said he has grown close to university employees like Captain Eileen Bradley, the community liaison for Campus Safety Services, who has become “like family.”
Estelle Wilson, a block captain on the 2000 block of North 15th Street, has lived on that street since 1945, where she raised her children and some of her grandchildren.
Some of the changes she has seen have not been positive, she said.
“Temple has taken over,” she said. “[Temple is] trying to run all of us out.”
Many residents have left the neighborhood while more students have moved in and the block party has less community members in attendance than it used to, Wilson said.
Wilson’s responsibilities as a block captain include keeping the block clean, as well as ensuring the community and students “get along and work together.”
The block party helps the two groups get to know each other, she added.
Student Body President Aron Cowen said the block party is a way to “bridge the divide” between students and residents and “shows commitment on both sides” to talking about issues.
“A lot of it is talking with students and the community and setting expectations,” he said. “I don’t think it’s malice, just misunderstanding.”
Bonaparte shares this viewpoint and encouraged the neighborhood and the university to keep up a dialogue about issues and continue to communicate. He said the 22 years of students and residents sharing a barbecue every Labor Day has been positive.
“[It shows] they don’t give up on trying to build a relationship,” he said.
Lian Parsons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.