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Miss 10th Street Pie

by Mark Peres

June 4,2005

On Memorial Day weekend, with dozens of families gathered in front of our porches, I announced the winner of this year’s Miss 10th Street Pie contest. Applause and cheers soon surrounded Anne as she received her tiara and sash from Margo, last year’s reigning champ. The rolling pin had been passed. Another successful block party on one of the best residential streets in the Center City.

The day began early with neighbors following closely-guarded recipes and baking pies, from warm cinnamon apple to cool bourbon chocolate. M.J. began eight hours of cooking mouth-watering, tangy brisket. Outside, the street was blocked off with barricades. Beer and soda was put on ice and water balloons made ready.

10th Street is a narrow, two-block stretch in the heart of the Garden District in First Ward. Eight years ago, the previous neighborhood, Earle Village, had been razed to make way for new single family homes and townhouses. The story is well-known and a testament to all involved in the transformation. The city, NationsBank, David Furman, Tuscan Development and Saussy Burbank came together around a common vision of a re-born Center City neighborhood. With mixed-price points, front porches, garages hidden from the street, sidewalks and open spaces, the Garden District has gone on to win national urban design awards and the envy of many who couldn’t imagine such instant community and rapidly appreciating home values in the inner city.

The gathering began just after 3:00 PM with bright chalk on the road announcing “10th Street Rocks.” There are thirteen kids on the block under the age of 15, and four more babies on the way. The kids took to the street with my daughter Shelby manning her homemade lemonade stand - 25 cents for a cup and refills free. Christy took charge of three grills, and soon Bubba burgers and marinade chicken made the rounds. Brisket made it to every plate with side dish choices ranging from salsa and chips to baked beans. In montage rhythms that have defined the block, nearly three dozen of us mingled on and off Anne and Christy’s porch, catching up on news, sharing smiles over the kids, and building up the tension ever-so-competitively as a new pie entered the contest.

Many of us who built our homes on the street saw ourselves as neighborhood pioneers. We took our chances on a concept: live a neo-traditional life uptown, and don’t mind the Belk Freeway a couple of hundred yards from your door. We traipsed in and out of each other’s home as they were under construction. We debated floor plans and upgrades. We wondered when the overhead wires on the street would come down and when the sapling trees would go up. One day Trinity Episcopal School will no longer be in trailers, and the grass on the street will grow in evenly, we told ourselves. Who was landscaping what and whether to tie our furniture down on our porches was the early talk of the neighborhood.

What was clear from the get-go was a shared sentiment about community. It came together soon and easily. The design of the homes and the intimacy of the street allowed us to embrace each other as we visited in front of our homes and became part of each other’s lives. But even more so community occurred because we were all in it together. We all chose these homes on this street at the same time for the same reasons. We are all approximately the same age, each professionally successful in not so dissimilar ways. The street became an extension of us personally: venturing, conversational and civic-minded. Of course, we would watch out for our children and cats, share on nights-out on the town, and pool-in on tickets to the arena.

Change is sure to come to 10th Street. The wheel of life turns. Original homeowners will leave and others will move in. New rhythms and sentiments will emerge. Meanwhile, we take small pleasures in our very berry, cheesecake and key lime pies. The Big Honkin’ Reece’s Pie swept honors and our new Miss 10th Street Pie will reign gloriously, with tiara and sash, until next year.

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