Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Gentrification and Philadelphia

A few weeks ago, someone posted about development happening in North Philadelphia. Reading through the Metro Commentary in the Inquirer, I came across an interesting op-ed about this exact subject. While the poster on YPP seemed to believe development was almost always a good thing, the author of this article was not nearly as charitable.
As I walked by 31st Street and Girard Avenue in Philadelphia one day recently, a developer's billboard grabbed my attention. "It's your turn," the text promised.
...
Westrum Development Co., to which the ad belongs, was, in effect, saying that young artists and professionals - particularly those who are white like me - have a right to spill over from upscale Center City and middle-class Fairmount into Brewerytown. We're being invited to gentrify this neighborhood of mostly small, two-story houses in North Philadelphia, where working-class people have lived for many years.
...
Brewerytown already is a well-established community of residents and businesses. An easy walk to Fairmount Park, the Philadelphia Zoo, and the location of the soon-to-be-relocated Please Touch Museum, residents are overwhelmingly African American, many of them homeowners. This community's turn is not over; it has been active for quite some time.

The people of this neighborhood want improvement - rehabbed houses, shops and a supermarket - but this can't be done by a developer who believes that replacing the residents, or sending them intimidating advertising messages, is improvement. Such a developer does not have the interests of the current residents in mind, and the community understands this.

Brewerytown residents want to continue to own the real estate, institutions and culture of their neighborhood and to be actively involved in the rebuilding effort. What we should ask ourselves is: Why doesn't this community have the opportunity to determine its future as more affluent communities in this city do?
...
Unfortunately, Brewerytown is not the only working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia being targeted by real estate firms and speculators interested in profiting from the gentrification and displacement that inevitably accompanies so-called revitalization. Similar things are happening in neighborhoods in North, South, and West Philadelphia.

People of color also are not the only victims of gentrification. Fairmount, once largely white and working class, has been gentrified. Now, Fishtown and Kensington are dealing with ongoing development and displacement.
I tend to agree with the overall message of this article. Economic development and growth are both good things. However, it can't be done at the expense of working-class people who have lived in the city for their entire lives. Besides, which is better? Attracting a few more weathly people in various areas of Philadelphia or creating better jobs so the medium wage goes up?

13 Comments:

At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You need to read the Brookings Institute's research in this area. Like so many issues, the empirical evidence doesn't match up with the rhetoric. Gentrification might have a bad connotation for some, but it's generally good for the long-standing residents of a community who benefit from improvements in service, etc.

 
At 3:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

None of the poor gentrified residents seem to complain when they make a killing selling their homes.

 
At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i saw that same article and was enraged.
the writer essentially doesn't believe that development is at all a good thing and that we should continue to have poor people live among other poor people in poor crumbling neighborhoods and no development in the city - this same person will complain about suburban sprawl. It was one of the most annoying typically liberal rants I have read in a very long time - i am still angry about it - this is why the left has become so marginalized because if you actually want to see economic growth folks like the author of that essay dismiss other progressives that actually want to see areas improved - the author will never recognize that capital is actually a good thing and that accumulation of wealth should be encouraged - that article is emblematic of why Philadelphia always stumbles when trying to move forward

 
At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Victims of gentrification" that's rich. Sort of like "death by chocolate". It's wonderful that so many opportunities for middle and upper middle class (and yes, even rich) folks are springing up over town. Wonderful for the City. That part of Brewerytown where Westrum is putting in condos? Nobody is being displaced, it used to look like a bomb hit it.

 
At 5:03 PM, Blogger That Dude said...

If these folks own their homes then they are making otu big time.

 
At 6:00 PM, Blogger Charles said...

A lot of people rent in these kinds of areas. And a lot of the businesses rent the spaces for their shops. Imagine having a Barber Shop for 30 years and having to close it because rent just tripled over night. And what about all the people who rent who have lived in these areas for years, who can’t afford it anymore?

Development is a balancing act. Sure, many of these people own their homes, but where would they move after they sold their house? What is the benefit of your neighborhood improving if you can’t afford to live there anymore?

 
At 10:25 AM, Blogger ACM said...

None of the poor gentrified residents seem to complain when they make a killing selling their homes.

well, if they've lived there a long time and have a community, such that their friends, church, and children are all nearby, then the pile of money doesn't really make up for those losses. (this in addition to the possibility that moving will add a half hour to already long commutes.) then why sell at all? because usually the surrounding development sends property taxes up so high that the low income folks can't afford to stay.

I happen to think that renewal and development are good for the city, and improving the appearance and safety of neighborhood benefits a wide swath of residents. but those who lived from hand to mouth in the development zones often get shoved aside as much as though a flood had come through...

 
At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Homeowners who sell usually do so voluntarily.

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger DanielUA said...

Interestingly, there have been studies both in NYC and in Boston, that indicate that poor people in "gentrifying" neighborhoods are less likely to move than in normal neighborhoods.

As Charles said, it is a balancing act. Brookings uses the term "equitable development," which I take to mean making sure that existing neighborhood fabrics are not destroyed as much, much need money comes into areas. For example, the property tax thing- you can pass a law saying somones prop tax can only increase x percent each year.

Everyone benefits when money comes into Philly. From social services to education, to bringing down the digital divide, the City can do more for more as the tax base grows.

 
At 2:38 PM, Blogger Charles said...

There is also the issue of control over your own destiny. People need to have control over what happens in their community. They need to feel like they are a partner in that growth. If developers and paid off politicians are making all of the decisions, then these people have lost their community. There are some things that are important that you can’t put a dollar figure on. A sense of community is one of those things.

Hey, and let me not totally diss gentrification. I live in Germantown, and it is getting ridiculous here. I’m loving it, mostly because they are not building big Condos and such but fixing up and selling old homes. Now, all they have to do is get rid of those shitty ass stores on Chelten Ave., which are owned by people outside the community.

 
At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my wife, son and I live a few blocks from this new development. we just moved here in December and are thrilled that the neighborhood is seeing some new development.

if the residents in fact own their homes, the equity built by rising home prices will either give them an additional source of income, or they can sell their homes and move somewhere else for a tidy profit.

we live just below Poplar - 1 block from Girard. since we moved in, we have frequently visited the shops and restaurants on Girard. but how many of our neighbors have done the same? none that i have talked with. people on our block trek down to Fairmont for food, wine or beer. would attracting these people to Girard be a bad thing for the local businesses? obviously not.

i love the fact that there are successful, black owned businesses on Girard. and i truly hope that they can continue to thrive as the neighborhood grows. i also think this neighborhood could be a great, diverse section of Philly. And development, renovation of old homes and rising property values are a good thing for all of us who live here.

 
At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The premise of the op ed is such bull - "victims of gentrification" - how can you be a victim if the economy, cleanliness, and safety of your community improves? What an incredible crock of an op ed!! Sure, there are some sad stories of the 30-year old business gettin' run out by the profiteers; when that happens, it's sad. But, lots of times, bleeding heart liberals are much sadder than the old timers who are psyched to get bought out.

 
At 3:50 PM, Blogger Rich Garella said...

I don't understand why property tax should go up just because market prices in their neighborhoods go up. The law should be changed so that your assessment is frozen until you sell your house (property tax rates could still go up citywide, of course). The new buyers can pay higher taxes on a higher assessment, but people who already live there should not be made to pay more because something happened that is outside their control. If I'm wrong about how this works, please feel free to correct me.

 

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