Newbold Neighbors Association announced the results of its February annual election, resulting in a handful of fillings for previously unoccupied positions and the naming of its next president, Anthony Coratolo.
Coratolo, a 31-year-old engineer who graduated from Drexel University in 2006, previously held a co-chair position on the organization’s Clean and Green Committee, which coordinates organic efforts for neighborhood cleanups and strives to educate the community about existing city programs. Coratolo moved into Newbold after recommendations from friends because it was both a nice, affordable and proximally convenient place to live, he said.
His primary reason for quickly getting involved with the Newbold Neighbors Association: the abundance of McDonald’s burger wrappers and coffee cups lining neighborhood streets.
“I got involved to fight litter problems, to be honest. One thing most people can agree on is that Philly, unfortunately, has a higher litter problem than in a lot of other big cities,” Coratolo said. “So, [in my Clean and Green role], we cleaned up G.W. Childs School at 17th and Wharton streets and their community garden, and we coordinate with Bouvier Community Gardens to help clean up around there as well.”
His Clean and Green endeavors are also, not coincidentally, what drove him to run for president after the organization’s former president, Joe Suchma, stepped aside to shift attention to his family. Coratolo was uncontested in the election.
“We were at a point where we needed a leader who could help coordinate,” Coratolo said. “Our outgoing president just had a new baby and wasn’t able to keep up with the work, and I think the organization does a lot of good work. I didn’t want to lose some of the momentum we’d built up recently.”
His first act as president, then, is to advocate for more green space in the neighborhood. Specifically, he’d like the vacant lots surrounding the Bouvier Community Gardens to be converted to hang-out spots for the community. But that’s not to abandon other new focuses to be had — namely, education.
“One of the reasons people leave the city is that they don’t want to put their children into the school system,” he said. “So, we want to coordinate some ideas, at least on the community level, of how to help our schools out.”
The groundwork of such efforts is rooted in a newly created Education Committee chair that, as of now, remains vacant and was not actively sought by any community member. But what would such a position actually contribute?
“There’s still some confusion out there about what it will entail. The reason we decided to add an education chair(person) was because we realized that was something we wanted to focus on in the coming years,” he said. “It’s still open, so if someone wants to step up to that, we would obviously love to have them. I think there will be more interest when people start to learn about it.”
Poor communication, however, may continue to keep Newbold Neighbors seedless with these types of new efforts, as the organization has a lingering reputation from its 2007 onset of being tense and disjointed with outreach — despite newly added text alerts, newsletters and a Facebook page that, on a technical level, achieve the goal of conveying surface-level information.
Matthew Ray, a resident at 17th and McClellan streets who said he is often aware of meetings but unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts, said the issue seems to be ill-defined agendas.
“If I had to ask them to make any kind of alteration in their programming or messaging, I would suggest maybe focusing on an issue or two and pushing for involvement,” Ray said. “It seems too often like it’s ‘business as usual’ even when it isn’t.”
The association’s meetings — especially those regarding zoning — with long-time residents, Point Breeze organizations and some developers have a reputation for being muddled if not tense.
Gary Viteri, who earlier this year opened The Pharmacy coffee shop and art gallery at 18th and Wharton streets, expressed that Point Breeze Civic Association was a much simpler organization to work with. Because his shop is on the boundary line of Newbold and Point Breeze, he had to propose his business to both associations.
“I feel like, especially with Newbold Neighbors, it’s too disorganized,” Viteri said. “[The shop proposal] turned into such a controversial thing, and I had to come back for a second meeting. And it was like Jerry Springer again. [Newbold] is like the Wild Wild West. Everyone wants a piece. … But nothing really gets solved.”
“People aren’t going to agree on everything,” said Coratolo, who feels the portrayal of tensions can be overblown. “There can be tension around specific issues, development being one of them. I’m not going to lie and say that everyone always agrees on what projects should go forward, which are good and bad. Even those on our own board have different views on what development is beneficial for the community.”
Coratolo agrees there can be a pretty big divide regarding specific issues but feels amount of tension is exaggerated.
“There are a lot of things we do agree about that don’t always get press,” he said.
– Text, photos and video by Brandon Baker and Kate McCann.