CITY HOODS GET THEIR GROOVE BACK
OLD CITY, WITH its Greenwich Village-y vibe, and Manayunk, with its rolling San Francisco-style hills, were both swept up in the last round of city gentrification, as prices zoomed to almost unfathomable heights and streets that were toast a decade before were renewed, restored, and flipped into cool places to live. So when looking ahead to 2017, the obvious question emerges: Who’s next?
Northern Liberties has been gushed about as the Next Big Neighborhood for decades, but the oasis speculators dreamed about when they began snapping up property there 20 years ago is just now solidifying, proof that you need more than hype to make a trend real — you need bodies. Additionally, the recent downturn in the market has blown some of the steam out of the cheerleading for places like Graduate Hospital, Queen Village, Fairmount and University City, but their housing stock and proximity to Center City will make them magnets for the upwardly mobile during the next decade. The biggest change will be seen in Brewerytown, where several developers are betting heavily with pricey developments and which many tout as the next Manayunk.
Still, there will always be somebody griping. The city’s urban universities have undertaken enormous capital projects in recent years and spread renewal out beyond their campus borders, “instead of being walled-up fortresses, like they were through the ’60s and ’70s,” says Stephen Mullin, a former finance director in the Rendell administration who now consults on real estate development along with Econsult’s Richard Voith. And as each college tries to do even more, community resistance bubbles up — what Mullin calls the “they’re taking our block” mentality of the urban poor.
Kevin Gillen, a research fellow at Penn who studies Philadelphia real estate trends and is a vice president at Econsult, was on a radio show last year when a young, white male squatter phoned in to complain about the “McPenntrification” of University City.
“Did you grow up in the neighborhood?” Gillen asked.
“No,” the caller replied.
“Well, how long have you been there?”
“About six months,” the caller said. “And now I see all these wannabe artists and hippies coming into this neighborhood. And before, it was just us, communicating with the minorities and relating to them.”
Gillen was unmoved. “Dude,” he said, “you’re the tip of the spear of gentrification — a bunch of alternative-lifestyle punk white kids squatting in a home. You’re paving the way for the artists, the gay households, the bohemians, behind which come the childless couples willing to take the risk to live in an edgy neighborhood, followed by the doctors and lawyers. You’re accusing people of gentrification when you’re paving the road.”