The Wall Street Journal reports a heart-warming story of the proverbial blade of grass succeeding in growing up right through the urban asphalt of a Philadelphia combat zone neighborhood. Naturally, the combined forces of government and economic progress are threatening to eliminate it.
Philadelphia — In a gritty, inner-city neighborhood here, a group of teenagers, older men and a few women gathered one Saturday recently — to parade their horses.
More than 60 horses are squeezed into a row of rickety brick stables and a dusty vacant lot here on West Fletcher Street in the rough neighborhood of Strawberry Mansion. They are among the last major remnants of a decades-old tradition in Philadelphia of inner-city riding, on horses kept in yards and odd corners of the city. …
The horsemen that weekend were also worrying about their future. For decades, Fletcher Street and most of the city’s horsemen were largely ignored by officials. Stables came and went over the years, but there has always been vacant land to claim or another stable to squeeze into.
Now, inner-city development is creating competition for property. Stables around town have been condemned and torn down.
The city has not announced specific plans for Fletcher Street. But the local city councilman, Darrell Clarke, says he wants to see houses replace the stables. Mr. Clarke grew up in the neighborhood and knows several of the older horsemen from his childhood. But, he says, “It’s not an ideal place for them. They are in the middle of a residential block.”
Most horsemen are unprotected. Half the block is owned by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, an agency charged with developing underused property, with a special emphasis on affordable housing. The city aims to finish a major renewal project just to the south of Fletcher Street by 2010.
Neighbors have complained of the noise and smell, and city animal-control officials have fingered Fletcher Street as a “problem area” — a finding the horsemen dispute. Mr. Clarke and other city officials say they believe the horsemen are doing something good for the community but cannot protect them.
“To be candid, it is not a priority,” says Joyce Wilkerson, chief of staff for Mayor John F. Street. Ms. Wilkerson, who keeps a horse of her own in a stable in nearby Fairmount Park, says, “I look at a city that has an operating deficit, a school system with problems,” and too much crime. “I don’t think you take a sport like horses and make it a priority.”
Comments like those have made the horsemen anxious. “There’s a pushout coming,” says Devon Teagle, a 43-year-old former jockey, as horsemen around him nod. “I don’t know when, but it’s coming.” If the stables weren’t here, says Mr. Gough , a retired welder, “I’d just be home twiddling my thumbs.” He comes to Fletcher Street every day to be with old friends.
Read the whole thing.
There’s an old saying that there is nothing better for the inside of a boy than the outside of a horse. You’d think the City of Philadelphia would take a more positive interest in promoting a traditional local activity which brings the community together, and which attracts young people and offers a positive alternative to substance abuse and crime.
All the contact information (for donation purposes) I’ve been able to find is:
Strawberry Mansion Equestrian Center
2600 Block Fletcher Street