Blackwell Homes community in West Phila. still growing

Mill Creek used to be a crime-ridden neighborhood rife with vacant properties.

“When I was a youngster, we called it the Bottom,” said PHA community liaison Nellie Reynolds. “There were so many run down houses.”

Now, it’s a neighborhood that can’t stop growing with new homes. The Philadelphia Housing Authority celebrated the latest — and last — phase in a 12-part construction of the Lucien E. Blackwell Homes yesterday with the opening of 23 energy efficient units on the 800 block of N. Markoe Street.

But in the next instant, city officials also announced plans to build nine more properties on the street.

“This development is just the latest layer in the tens of thousands of dollars of investment in this community,” said Congressman Chaka Fattah, who was on hand for the ribbon cutting.

The addition brings the total invested in the nearly-700-unit, 17-block revitalization effort to $7.1 million. PHA interim director Michael Kelly called the project “among the biggest in the country and, I think, the best.”

The 17 renovated and 6 new properties were designed by Jibe Design, who won the opportunity in an architecture competition three years ago.

“We were the only people in the contest that didn’t tear down all of the existing buildings,” said principal architect Juliet Whelan. “This is important for historical preservation reasons, for the sake of sustainability, and also for practical monetary reasons.”

Many saw the foundation for large-scale improvements early on.

“Mill Creek has some older housing stock that is really in good condition and there are long-time residents in the neighborhood who are homeowners,” said Anne Whiston-Spirn, director of the West Philadelphia Landscape Project. “There are blocks with really strong social networks.”

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