Clarke discusses plans to improve community sustainability

City Council President Darrell Clarke likes what he sees happening in growing neighborhoods such as University City, Northern Liberties and Center City.

Other neighborhoods, though, are suffering population losses and facing other challenges.

“There was no plan for the Taconys, Olneys and West Oak Lanes,” he said in a recent interview in his City Hall office.

In response, Clarke (D-5th dist.) and Council produced the Philadelphia Community Sustainability Initiative, a glossy 80-page book designed to make, as it says on the front cover, “every neighborhood a community of choice.”

Some of the challenges cited by Clarke are aging recreation facilities and public safety. One bit of recent good news is the 30 police officers assigned to the 15th Police District, the result of lobbying by Councilman Bobby Henon (D-6th dist.).

Clarke would favor investments in Police Athletic League centers or longer hours at recreation centers to prevent young people from engaging in criminal activity such as breaking windows and slashing tires.

“Those things escalate if we don’t nip it in the bud,” he said.

The book highlights other bright spots in the city, including multiple libraries and recreation centers in the Queen Village area; an abundance of retail and service establishments in West Powelton and an 83-percent homeownership rate in Packer Park.

Over the next several months, Council will hold community forums. Resident recommendations will be incorporated into planning for next year’s budget, Clarke said.

In general, Clarke wants to see the city’s poor people improve their financial status.

“We’re losing our middle class,” he said.

One issue Clarke wants to address is Philadelphia’s 50,000 vacant properties. They can be a blight, he said, adding that the payment of taxes and utilities can help the city’s fiscal outlook.

“We collect no money from them,” Clarke said.

Clark said it is “crazy” that the annual cost to house an inmate is $35,000. He thinks a better idea might be to take $1 million out of the prison budget to fund a program where non-violent criminals would clean and green vacant lots.

“It’s going to cost us one way or another,” he said.

Clarke wants more money spent in public schools, noting that Lower Merion spends almost twice as much as Philadelphia per pupil. He’d like to see a permanent funding formula for schools.

Once the school situation stabilizes, he’d want to replace the School Reform Commission with a school board made up of mayoral appointees who must gain Council approval.

“The SRC needs to be history. It needs to go,” he said.

On other topics, Clarke would like to see the Department of Licenses and Inspections become more user friendly.

The Council president would like to continue working with state government to help Philadelphia, and he believes Rep. John Taylor can be helpful in a Republican-controlled legislature.

Clarke said he loves the current makeup of Council, saying the 17 members function well together.

Action will be taken soon, he said, on whether to take a closer look at selling the Philadelphia Gas Works.

Will Clarke run for mayor next year?

“We will be making that decision after the November election,” he said.

Ken Trujillo and Terry Gillen are already running for the Democratic nomination. Anthony Williams will likely join them. Other possible candidates include Milton Street, Alan Butkovitz, Lynne Abraham, Nelson Diaz and Ed Rendell.

A possible Republican candidate is Doug Oliver. ••