Bridget Collins-Greenwald M'08: Overseeing Quality of Life with a Catholic Conscience

The view from Bridget Collins-Greenwald’s seventh-floor office in Philadelphia’s City Hall – a stunning one that overlooks Dilworth Plaza and provides a clear sightline down the beautiful Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the iconic Art Museum - is drastically different from the vantage point of the Marsden Street apartment and Ditman Street rowhouse in Tacony that she once called home.  As the Commissioner of Licenses and Inspections, Quality of Life Division, newly appointed by Mayor Cherelle Parker, Collins-Greenwald is grateful, not only for the incredible vista, but also for the vote of confidence and the vibrancy of her new post. Appropriately, she has been tasked with improving the views of citizens in neighborhoods across the city.

The former Commissioner of Public Property, Collins-Greenwald’s new role has been streamlined through the Mayor’s decision to split the massive L&I department, a department that was part of Philadelphia’s original charter, into two separate departments with specific focuses.  Basil Merenda will head up the department’s new Inspections, Safety and Compliance Division, concentrating on building safety and permitting.  Collins-Greenwald will work on educating businesses on how to become compliant and enforcing that compliance, will oversee the clean and seal teams to address the neglect of vacant and abandoned properties,  and will partner with the Clean and Green team, the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP) and other city agencies to identify and improve corridors that are in dire need of a cleanup.

“When Mayor Parker says her goal is to make Philadelphia the safest, cleanest and greenest city in America, with economic opportunity for all, she means it,” Collins-Greenwald said. “She’s passionate, and I am in awe when I hear her speak. It was a bold move to re-envision L&I.  We are an old city with old buildings.  This re-organization will allow us to be laser-focused on the work at hand. The health of our city is the health of our neighborhoods.  It’s that broken window theory – if you are on a block with a broken window, you don’t think twice about throwing your trash in the vacant lot next door, and then it just snowballs.  Mayor Parker is really committed to getting our neighborhoods back up to where they should be, to allocating resources where they are most needed, and to restoring pride in our neighborhoods, block-by-block.”

Collins-Greenwald feels up to the task - not only because of her long-standing relationship with so many of the blue-collar union workers and a strong and committed executive team who make up the department - but also because she feels supported in this new challenge by the Mayor, the City Council members and the workers themselves. Most especially, she feels prepared because of the empathy she learned through her Catholic upbringing, at St. Leo’s grade school, at St. Hubert’s High School where she serves as the Secretary of the Board, and at Holy Family University, from where she received her master’s in Human Resource Management in 2008.

“You get such a good sense of what people are really going through when you are out walking in the neighborhoods,” she said.  “It helps you to identify their pain points. I think I learned to listen and be empathetic to different people’s situations through my Catholic education. I think that was instilled in me to have a moral obligation to do good and to fight the good fight. That Catholic foundation went through all of my classes, at every level.  It taught me to respect others, to allow them to be seen and heard, and to try to understand where others are coming from. I also learned safety and trust from my Catholic education, and the importance of creating an environment that is built on those things.”

Her experience at Holy Family, she says, provided her with a strong HR foundation that brought her up to speed on the legal aspects of her position.

“I had really focused classes and collaborated with a lot of great people,” she said.  “You need staples in neighborhoods if we want them to flourish.  Holy Family is a staple in Northeast Philadelphia. Without it, there would be such a hole in the fabric of that community. The students and staff from Holy Family go out and support the neighborhood businesses.  They are part of the neighborhood. Holy Family gives people a great opportunity to go to a great school in their own community.”

Restoring a vitality like this in zip codes that have been overwhelmed by poverty and plight is a momentous task and one that, admittedly, does cause Collins-Greenwald’s mind to race and a few Hail Marys to go up.  Improvements, like those she recently experienced following a cleanup of 29th Street in the Strawberry Mansion section thorough the collaboration of a number of city departments, are providing the gratification and drive to identity the next neighborhood in need.

“As a public servant in the role that I am in, I am responsible for making Philadelphia a good place to live,” Collins-Greenwald said. “I think being a down-to-earth Tacony girl gets me far because I tell the truth, and I am approachable and very willing to listen,”  she said. “I treat everyone with respect. I take in all kinds of input, but if a make a decision, this is the decision, and I think people appreciate that. ‘Okay, she heard me out.  She may be going in a different direction.  She explained why, and that’s it.  We move on.’ I think people appreciate that. The best thing that someone could say to me is,  ‘L&I came into my neighborhood with empathy.  They listened to the residents, took our input about what we think are the issues here, and they did something about it. They made it better. ‘ If we can leave a neighborhood better than we found it, then I think we will be able to say we have been successful.”




Jan Giel