WHENEVER national publications offer a checklist of fun and charming places to visit in Philadelphia, Point Breeze and Grays Ferry usually aren't neighborhoods that make the cut.
Both areas have been plagued for years by poverty, blight, crime and struggling schools. Although there's no easy way to cure those deep-rooted urban ailments, Kenny Gamble's Universal Companies has given itself the task of trying to create a path forward for both communities, thanks to a $100,000 neighborhood planning grant it received earlier this month from the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation.
Rahim Islam, Universal's president and chief executive, said the company will use the funds to compile a report that examines housing, economic and education issues in both neighborhoods.
The area that Universal is studying stretches from 33rd Street to Broad, and from Washington to Snyder avenues - a few blocks south of Point Breeze's boundaries - and contains about 43,600 residents, the company said.
Universal will make the report public in the spring, Islam said, and host a series of town-hall meetings at which residents can help craft comprehensive plans to improve the areas.
Islam said that the goal is to try to tackle short-term goals - like adding recreation and health centers - and long-term ones - like improving early-childhood education and establishing more mixed-income communities.
"When you look at the city of Philadelphia and you hear about educational disparity and income disparity, they're played out in neighborhoods like Point Breeze and Grays Ferry," he said. "You need a plan that brings everyone together."
Islam said that Universal will likely use elements of its plan to later apply for a Promise Neighborhoods grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grants can bring in several million dollars.
Bobby Gormley, the president of the Grays Ferry Community Council, said that both neighborhoods have been largely "forgotten" for years, and have had to sketch out plans on their own for dealing with zoning and commercial business concerns.
"Like any neighborhood, we can use more help," he said. "We have a lot of poor people down here, but we have a lot of middle-class, hardworking people, too. We just want to keep our kids in a safe environment."
City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, whose 2nd Councilmanic District represents both neighborhoods, said that he would lend support to the plan that's ultimately crafted by Universal and the local residents.
"It's a unique opportunity, and it's also exciting," Johnson said. "Point Breeze and Grays Ferry are making a comeback."