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Close family ties and high homeownership rates (which today still exceed the city average) were partly responsible for this resilience, according to Lenora Jackson-Evans, president of the Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Center and a resident for 52 years.“I know when I moved here it was more family oriented,” she says. My aunt lived around the corner.” Despite these strengths, the community took a turn for the worse during the 1980s.Parents also set up folding chairs along the banks to the watch the sunset.“Even though we knew it was the Water Department’s property,” Graham says, “we felt ownership over it because it was so accessible.” All that changed, however, when the Water Department built a fence around the reservoir as a safety precaution in the early 1970s.Rediscovering the Reservoir In 2008, the Philadelphia Outward Bound School was hunting for a new location for its regional headquarters.“We were looking to move into a space that would allow us to grow sustainability as an organization.” says Katie Newsom Pastuszek, the school’s executive director.“It took away a whole part of our life,” says Larry Lane, 66, a longtime Strawberry Mansion resident and community activist.Lane used the reservoir to train for the Penn Relays, for which he won a gold medal in 1962.
“Everybody was basically family.” Much of Graham’s extended family occupied a single block. “Coming back home from college, I was sort of like, ‘whoa, things are starting to look a bit different,’” Graham says.For residents of Strawberry Mansion, a North Philadelphia neighborhood adjacent to the park, it was like having the world’s biggest backyard.“As a child, I remember just escaping into the park,” says Graham, now executive director of the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corporation. It was a place that was adventurous” On summer afternoons, Graham would wander along the banks of her favorite creek, examining bugs and catching crayfish.As the partners worked to develop the vision for their educational facility, the historical connection of the community to the site was made known.This added more voices to the collaboration and an expanded opportunity for community use and hours for public access to the site unfolded.” “This is an experiment in community-based conservation,” says Phil Wallace, executive director of Audubon Pennsylvania. Yes, it’s about learning and programming, educating kids and families and people of all ages about stewardship.” But it’s also an opportunity, he says, to serve as a major asset for Strawberry Mansion and to potentially galvanize further investment in the community.