Joyce Lloyd, the block captain at 1500 S. Taylor St. in Point Breeze

If you could change one thing on your block, what would it be?

Joyce Lloyd, block captain at 1500 South Taylor Street, would install more fences. She wants to close off some vacant lots and alleyways on her Point Breeze street, to help prevent illegal trash dumping and beautify the block she has for 30 years called home.

“You go to other cities, and people don’t dump,” Lloyd said. “So I’m going to try to come up with something.”

To do it, she’ll need some cash. That’s why Lloyd entered the Clean Block Contest, which has been held annually since 1945 by the Streets Dept.’s Philadelphia More Beautiful Coalition. This year, 20 of the city’s nearly 7,000 block captains are finalists competing for the grand prize of $1,000. There are also substantial awards for being a runner-up in second, third or fourth place.

Per PMBC rules, all the cash must be used to better the winning block in some way.

And Lloyd really wants those fences, so she got creative.

The French Quarter in Point Breeze

Captains are given $150 for participating, and on her judging day, Lloyd styled her entire street to look like New Orleans.

Lloyd welcomed a handful of PMBC judges — all of whom are block captains from elsewhere in the city — with a Mardi Gras theme. There were banners and beads, plus a cake and colorful flowers along the entire block. The vacant lot next to Lloyd’s house hosted a band and offered a place to sit and enjoy refreshments.

“You wouldn’t even know you’re in Philly,” she joked. “I put my car there sometimes, and now I’m using it as the French Quarter.”

The 1500 block of South Taylor Street, styled for judging day with a Mardi Gras theme. Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

Judging takes place in four official categories: cleanliness, beautification, recent block improvements and participation (ideally from most or all of the block’s residents).

For the record, Lloyd thinks she’s got pretty good odds. She recently scored a few “no dumping” signs from Councilman Kenyatta Johnson that she installed on the corner (✔ recent improvements), and nearly everyone who lives there made it out to the judging day party.

Joyce Lloyd worked with Councilman Kenyatta Johnson to install no dumping signs around her block. Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

Making new friends and inspiring neighbors

For Dawn Woods, PMBC program administrator, the goal of the contest is twofold: to beautify participating blocks, and to introduce neighbors who otherwise might never have interacted.

“This contest pulls people together,” she said. “At the end of the day, even if you don’t win the top prize, you’ve gained some new friends.”

Ideally, Woods said, the contest will inspire additional beautification efforts. “The hope is that other surrounding blocks will recognize your efforts, they’ll see what’s going on and they’ll want the same for their block,” Woods said.

Judges swarming the 1500 block of South Taylor Street Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

There’s just one judging day remaining in the contest, scheduled for this Saturday, Oct. 6. PMBC will announce the winners at an upcoming banquet dinner.

Regardless of the outcome, Lloyd says the contest has reinvigorated her hometown pride.

“I’ve lived in South Philly all my life, so I guess I’m a city girl,” she said. “A lot of people, I think they want to go and move away. But we have good people in the city, and I enjoy it.”

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Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...