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?