Carolyn Card-Sutton is a local historian, beat reporter, sustainable planning advocate and tireless cheerleader for a vibrant waterfront district.
After my recent adventures in hawking, I was left with lingering questions about my sparky guide, whose curiosity is certainly not limited to feathered things but encompasses local history, culture, development, and more: Who is Carolyn Card Sutton — and what might we have in common as fellow locals?
One thing right off the bat: we both live on the same street! Opposite sides, though: she’s on Penn close to Mifflin and I’m up the street a few blocks near Penn Charter. She’s been there since the 80’s and I’ve lived here all my life, but our paths have never crossed.
We both knew Johnny Manana’s, though! The big red chili pepper provided a great landmark to meet up, then we ducked indoors from the cold for a nice warm lunch together.
Before moving to East Falls, Carolyn lived in Center City, and loved all the shops, restaurants, and conveniences. But searching for a house was frustrating. She lost several bids in the University City area before she happened upon East Falls, and took a fateful pass down Penn Street.
Instantly, Carolyn fell in love with the charming Tudor architecture with backyard gardens and lovely slate roofs. This time, her search did not disappoint. She soon found a listing in the right price range, and moved into the “English cottage” of her dreams in East Falls.
Since then, Carolyn’s been dedicating her time to beautify the community, welcome new business, and make our neighborhood an even more desirable place for people looking to settle down in a quieter area of Philadelphia. The next time you see one of those bright colorful East Falls “OPEN” banners, thank Carolyn and her fellow EFDC cohorts!
EAST FALLS in THREE ADJECTIVES (according to Carolyn Sutton)
CONVENIENT: East Falls is well-connected: we’re off main roads leading both down to the City and out to the ‘Burbs. It’s a perfect hub to all that Philadelphia has to offer. East Falls has always been a transient place, a place where people can stop in for a quick donut or cup of coffee on their way to the Kelly Drive trails or Center City. But it’s also a place to settle down, with homes in all sizes and settings. Wherever you land, you’ll find our calm, quiet streets are a welcome oasis after a hectic day in the city.
ECLECTIC: Why, we’re lousy with unique and colorful people! Seems every East Fallser has a story to tell. But our eccentricity goes beyond just people. It’s in our art, architecture, commerce… The mixture of everything, everywhere: historic and modern, rich and poor, natural and industrial — we even have both global companies and family businesses on the same street.
HISTORIC: East Falls goes way back. Originally, we were a Colonial-era fishing village/resort called “Fort St. David’s” that supported farms and mills powered by the Schuylkill River. Thru generations, the economy grew to include breweries, factories, and industrial plants that helped East Falls become a major manufacturing hub in Philly.
But at our root, we have always been a wayfaring station connecting Center City to points West. Indeed, East Falls’ present now reflects this past: we’re still for the most part a conduit elsewhere by river, road, and rail. But what about our future?
How does our neighborhood achieve its potential? For Carolyn Sutton, the key lies in restoring the river as our center, with attractions like local stores and services: a bookstore, café, and maybe even a small Trader Joe’s. More parking, obviously, so people can stop and shop. And an emphasis on Nature, as well, with easily-accessible forest trails and river landings.
Easier said than done, of course. Especially since Carolyn admitted she’s “more of an idea person,” and not the best at follow-thru. But she’s brimming with hope, especially for younger generations who’ve been increasingly inhabiting East Falls. Their voices will create momentum for changes we’d all like to see.
Like Carolyn, I have lived in East Falls for quite a long time. I spent my childhood years playing in McMichael Park and spending summer afternoons in the local library. I left this little piece of Philadelphia six years ago to study in Washington D.C. and then I moved to Nicaragua as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Now, I’ve returned to my childhood neighborhood after a long six years.
To be honest, not much has changed since I left. Sure, some of the restaurants have changed hands, but overall, East Falls looks just about the same as it did six years ago.
This lack of change has left me with mixed feelings. In some cases, it’s nice to come home to something familiar — a place that has the same neighbors and characters. It’s comforting to be surrounded by the normal.
But, I also question if East Falls has been too suspended in time. And these questions and doubts have arisen because of all that development and change that I have witnessed in Center City, Fish Town, and Passyunk Philadelphia.
To me, these places have a mixture of history with new and exciting restaurants, stores, and people to meet. This new and changing section is enchanting and appealing, especially for a younger generation, and seeing these new developments has forced me to question our own development here in East Falls.
I completely agree with Carolyn when she said that East Falls is an eccentric and unique place. There’s undoubtedly something special going on here, but that isn’t enough. A supermarket within walking distance would be ideal. A place to get a cup of coffee while waiting for the train would be the perfect start to the morning. More places for parking and riverside fun would be great during the summer months.
But, at this point, these are just ideas. And these ideas won’t come into fruition and won’t be successful unless the community as a whole supports them throughout the entire process. Sure, Starbucks may be a more convenient coffee option on our way to work, but why not support our own local brew?
These our the type of questions that we need to ask ourselves when we demand change. Only then will development be successful.