Were you here in 1987? (Actually: Were you even born?) If you were, maybe you remember the thrill of One Liberty Place rising in the sky — an honest-to-God Philadelphia skyscraper at last, looking down on Billy Penn’s hat. How about the early ’60s, when Society Hill emerged from a hardscrabble neighborhood and Penn Center gave a new sleekness to downtown?
We find ourselves in one of those moments again — a period when our physical surroundings are changing quickly and drastically around us. What’s different this time is the breadth of the change, with new buildings and revitalized neighborhoods and inviting public spaces emerging all at once all across the city. We’re calling it the New Boom, and on the following pages we give you an inside look at the eight trends that are fundamentally reshaping Philadelphia — and a sneak preview of the revitalized city we’ll live in for the next half century.
Edited by Ashley Primis
Trend #1: The Public-Space Revival
From repurposed rail lines to new plazas, it’s Philly’s turn for an extreme backyard makeover. By Nicole Scott
Who would have thought a plain old boring boardwalk — one that’s only 2,000 feet long, hovers over the brownish Schuylkill, and gives a great view of, um, I-76 — could have caused so much excitement?
Take one step on it, and you’ll get it, too — the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, which debuted last fall, is pretty special. For decades, many public city spaces were left to age. But in the past few years, there’s been a serious push to revive them, with civic-oriented nonprofits — Center City District, University City District and others — leading the charge. These groups can accomplish goals with little government interference (although with some public money). They know that to keep our population growing and happy, our parks, squares and circles need to be more appealing, and that civic development spurs private development.
The dogged Paul Levy and his CCD have been in the forefront, moving the Parkway closer to a true Champs-Élysées, creating the sweet Sister Cities Park and constructing City Hall’s Dilworth Park, to name a few projects.
But that’s just the beginning. We’ll continue to see a focus on our rivers; the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation has plans to revive piers every half mile (like South Philly’s Pier 68, which will encourage fishing), and for a new waterfront trail that will lead into an all-new Penn’s Landing. (At $250 million and with plans to cap I-95, this is a bit of a longer-term vision.) The Schuylkill River Trail will continue southward, connecting the boardwalk to new developments from CHOP and Penn, and will extend to Bartram’s Garden via a repurposed railroad bridge. Near North Broad, the Reading Viaduct project, slotted to break ground this year, will transform an overgrown span of elevated railroad tracks into a High Line-like public park. If City Hall can agree on anything, Love Park will be redesigned, and the trolley terminal at 40th Street in West Philly will become an exciting transportation hub, business corridor and park.
And this isn’t just dig-and-dash. As the DRWC’s Spruce Street Harbor Park proved, consistent, quality programming (chef-y food, craft beer, music, pop-ups) is an integral element of each plan and will keep our newly verdant spaces from becoming all that was wrong with the old ones.
A Q&A With Bryan Hanes
The landscape architect behind the Reading Viaduct and more of Philly’s public spaces. Interview by Holly Otterbein
What’s driving the sudden revival of public spaces in Philly?
It has to do with the resurgence of the city as a great place to live and work. All of a sudden we saw an influx of young people moving back into the city, particularly the young creative class. As long as they’re here, there’s going to be a demand and a desire for new public spaces.
How have our spaces changed over time?
William Penn’s five original squares were a way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. They were about promenading and showing off your wealth. Now we’re interacting with public spaces in different ways. Look at Clark Park in West Philly. It was a big, empty space with a bunch of big, beautiful trees, and we filled it with gravel, tables and chairs. That liberated people and made them able to use the space in any way they wanted. It’s more open to interpretation.
Is there a public space in Philly you’d like to completely redo?
We have our hands on it: the Reading Viaduct. One of the things we noticed right off the bat in the Callowhill and Chinatown neighborhoods is not only is there no public space, but people are living in converted industrial buildings. They don’t have a front stoop or a backyard to hang out in. So we’re excited about what a new green space would mean not only for the city, but also for that neighborhood.
What’s your design philosophy?
If a public space can contribute economically to the city, that’s great. If we can contribute to a better ecology, that’s huge. But probably more than anything, we’re looking for ways to engage people and to create social environments … like a living room where people can come together.
Behind the Boom: Public Spaces
The Hot Ticket: David Fierabend
The principal of Groundswell Design is the talent behind the buzziest landscape and design projects you saw this year, from pop-ups (Spruce Street Harbor Park) to permanent work (FringeArts; Independence Beer Garden). Now everybody wants the Fierabend magic; upcoming projects include Chinatown’s Pearl Street and a “sea garden” at CHOP’s Karabots Pediatric Care Center … just for starters.
The Sultan of Center City: Paul Levy
If there’s a face — or a voice — of the public-space revolution in Philadelphia, it belongs to Levy. As president and CEO of the Center City District, he’s been turning dead space into civic gems since 1991. His latest (and his greatest) hits? Sister Cities and Dilworth parks … though his forthcoming Reading Viaduct project is shaping up to be a game-changer, too.
The Riverfront Revolutionary: Tom Corcoran
Race Street’s and Morgan’s piers, Washington Avenue Green, Spruce Street Harbor Park … there’s no shortage of reasons to hang out near the water ever since the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, helmed by Corcoran, started rolling out its cool, user-friendly transformations on the once-irrelevant six-mile stretch. Philadelphians are enamored. Hey, developers? Are you listening?
The Money Man: Shawn McCaney
Behind nearly every quality public-space project in the city is the William Penn Foundation (and its money). That’s largely thanks to McCaney, the foundation’s program director for creative communities. A powerful behind-the-scenes cheerleader with a background in urban design, he’s on an idealistic mission to spread the public-space love into all Philly neighborhoods. And did we mention the piles of cash?
Trend #2: West Philly Rising
No other part of the city — or region — is changing as rapidly as West Philly. in the past two years, the big institutions (Penn, Drexel, CHOP, HUP) and private builders (who are pouring more than $1 billion into near-term development) have been moving at breakneck pace to create more of … just … everything. Here, 21 of the big-money, high-impact, skyline-altering projects we’ll see popping up in the next few years
1. 3.0 University Place will be a five- or six-story privately developed office building with retail space. Target completion date is summer 2016.
2. Hub 3939 is the second phase of a privately built, Penn-owned seven-floor building with apartments, retail and offices.
3. 3601 Market Street: Southern Land Company is building a 28-story residential complex for the University City Science Center’s community — a first for the growing nonprofit, and part of a master plan to bolster campus life. The building will have ground-floor retail, 363 apartments, a fitness studio and a pool. The project is set to finish this summer and is estimated to cost $110 million.
4. The Pavilion for Advanced Care, a just-completed 178,000-square-foot critical-care center for Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, comes with a helipad and cost $144 million.
5. 3737 Chestnut Street is a partnership between Radnor Property Group and the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. The 25-story residential apartment tower (scheduled for completion this year) will have 6,000 square feet of retail.
6. The University City High School site is 14 acres that Drexel and Wexford Science & Technology plan to develop into offices and research and lab space, with residential units and possibly an elementary school. Dates and specific plans have yet to be announced.
7. The Summit at University City, a privately built 550,000-square-foot residential tower on Drexel’s campus, is full of amenities and will have retail on the ground floor; completion is anticipated for the fall of 2015.
8. The Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life is Drexel’s first Jewish student center, with 14,000 square feet of event space, study areas, offices and a kosher kitchen; expected opening is 2016.
9. The Study Hotel at University City: In conjunction with Drexel University, private developer Hospitality 3 is constructing a 212-room hotel with banquet space and a ground-floor restaurant and bar. Projected construction cost: $50 million.
10. New College House at Hill Field will have 190,000 square feet of housing and dining for Penn students next to a big campus lawn; projected to be complete by the fall of 2016 and cost $127 million.
11. Innovation Neighborhood is a Drexel and Brandywine Realty Trust project that will create a 12-acre campus to foster tech, business and other creative ventures. The larger master plan could include transportation improvements for Amtrak and 30th Street Station.
12. Cira Centre South: Brandywine Realty Trust is developing two separate towers, plus a greenway between them, known as CCS. The first phase of the project, Evo, is a recently completed 33-story tower of high-end apartments, study areas and a rooftop pool. Next up is the FMC Tower (projected completion: 2016), with 49 stories of rental units and ground-floor retail. Total estimated cost for both projects is around $475 million.
13. Schuylkill Avenue Project, a CHOP-owned area on the eastern side of the river, will have a 21-story high-rise primarily dedicated to non-patient offices, to be completed in the spring of 2017.
14. Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics: This 30,000-square-foot research facility is being constructed atop the just-opened 115,000-square- foot Henry A. Jordan Medical Education Center (which cost $38 million), adjacent to Penn Med’s already impressive Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine. Researchers will expand on the cancer-cell therapy breakthroughs of Carl June.
15. Unnamed Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania patient pavilion, being designed by architect Norman Foster’s London firm, is reported to cost more than a billion dollars; timeline not available yet.
16. The Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care: Slated to open this summer and costing about $450 million, this building is CHOP’s most significant project since it began a $2 billion expansion in 2011. The 700,000-square-foot center will have pediatric outpatient services, clinical-care facilities, and a 14,000-square-foot green roof and garden.
17. The Neural and Behavioral Sciences Building will bring Penn’s psych and biology departments (and a few other programs) under one 77,000-plus-square-foot roof.
18. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics will house those areas of study at Penn in a 100,000-square-foot building, with offices and an auditorium; targeted completion is 2018.
19. Perry World House will be a 17,000-square-foot gathering place for international events and discussions on Penn’s campus, to be completed in 2016.
20. The Woodlands is a 54-acre riverside park and National Historical Landmark District that, with some funding from the William Penn Foundation, will begin to restore and preserve its treasures this year.
21. Pennovation Works: Penn is extending its reach to the eastern banks with this 23-acre project, which aims to lure private-sector businesses focused on innovation and will house a few university labs and offices. Existing buildings currently under renovation include the 52,000-square-foot Pennovation Center (a first-phase project), which will house labs and co-working space.
Behind the Boom: West Philly
The Place-Makers: Matt Bergheiser and Prema Gupta
Bergheiser, the executive director of the University City District, and Gupta, his economic development guru, have tapped into the importance of “place-making” with gusto. Their Porch at 30th Street project turned a drab block of concrete into a fully programmed public park that pulls in a great lunch crowd, and their Project Rehab is turning ugly, broken-down properties into attractive, useable assets for the community. But mostly, they’re filling in the holes between all the massive, shiny private and institution-backed development so that University City continues to feel like a beautiful, accessible, appealing neighborhood.
The Powerhouse: Gerard Sweeney
One might say that most of West Philly’s inroads lead back to Sweeney, head of Brandywine Realty Trust. To wit: his swanky two-tower Cira Centre South project; the planned mega-reinvention of 30th Street Station; and his vital role as chairman of the board of the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, the group responsible for that jaunty new boardwalk.
The Behemoths: John Fry, Ralph Muller, Amy Gutmann and Steven Altschuler
Under the leadership of Fry (Drexel), Muller (Penn Med), Gutmann (Penn) and Altschuler (CHOP), the West Philly of 2015 bears little resemblance to West Philly just five years ago. (See the map on page 68 for the meds-and-eds’ brave new world.) Development of this scale takes a helluva team at each shop to dream big and execute fast. But what really stands out is the amount of inter-institutional collaboration across the board, which has spawned such exciting current and future projects as the Drexel and Amtrak Innovation Neighborhood plan and the Penn Med and University City Science Center tower at 3737 Market Street. A shared vision of greatness — built around huge amounts of institutional and private funding — is creating a city within a city that will have more and better retail and restaurants, a new hotel, the kinds of school improvements that keep students excited, more accessible health care, plus elevated design and architecture. Could such a robust symbiosis between Philadelphia giants exist anywhere outside of West Philly? We dare to dream. …
Trend #3: The Luxification of Center City
The suburbs aren’t dying; they’re simply moving to town. A look at five (of the more than 75) million-dollar-plus city homes being built right now — for all the Empty nesters and parents who want space, garages and yards. By Angelly Carrion
111 Walnut Street
These four townhomes on the edge of Society Hill — being developed by Tom Kelly and designed by Moto Designshop — are stunners with lots of natural light and glass-walled master baths that look into an interior courtyard. All are priced between $2.5 million and $3 million; two have sold.
7 in Spire
Along with huge lots (20 feet wide and 71 feet long), these seven Old City townhomes priced between $1.65 million and $1.85 million have roomy finished basements, garages, and clear views of the Ben Franklin Bridge from the roof deck. The architect, Shimi Zakin of Atrium Design Group, is also one of the developers.
Parke Place Townhomes
Steps from Broad Street in Bella Vista, developer Donovan Clarke has completed 10 townhomes that start at $1.25 million, with 12 more on the way. The 4,000-square-foot homes are split over seven levels, with airy basements and garages.
The Eight on Race
These eight Logan Square townhomes being built by Matzi Ben-Maimon cost between $1.8 million and $2.4 million and boast 5,000-plus square feet of space. A coveted 23 feet in width, they have two-car garages and elevators.
Tom Scannapieco, the man behind the renowned 1706 Rittenhouse residences, is set to break ground on his next one-percenter project: a 26-floor glass tower overlooking Independence Mall. The 37 large units priced between $2.5 million and $8.5 million — plus a $17.6 million penthouse — are totally customizable and have amenities galore, like a robotic car retrieval. More than $75 million in pre-construction reservations have been made.
Trend #4: Market East Gets Shiny
After years of debate (and an almost-casino), some visionaries are finally making a go at revitalizing Market East, starting with the $200 million East Market Plan (first step: new name). Daniel Killinger, managing director for National Real Estate Development — the company that’s pulling together all the pieces — walks us through the mega-project.
2. Family Court Building: “This will be a very modern open-plan office space with 14-foot ceilings and concrete floors. We will lease out offices — the whole building is 160,000 square feet — targeting tech and creative companies.” Around the corner on 11th Street will be a MOM’s Organic Market with 55 complimentary parking spaces for shoppers.
3. New Walkway: The 30-foot-wide pedestrian-only walkway will have restaurants and retail. “It’s important to have new operators from places like Chicago or L.A. come to Philly … and also to bring in existing restaurant owners and Philly BYOBs. It needs to be authentic, but it needs to be bold and new.”
4. The Convention Center entrance on Market Street.
5. New Residential Building: This L-shaped tower, on the corner of 11th and Market, will have 322 mostly one-bedroom rental units. The parking will be below the building. Amenities include a third-floor roof garden with grills and seating, a demo kitchen, a gym and a business center.
6. Retail: This will be a huge two-story retail unit with multiple shopping and restaurant tenants, swooping all the way around to the corner of 12th and Market.
Behind the Boom: Center City
The Retail Revitalizer: Michael Salove
When high-profile landlords and institutions like Drexel want the ideal mix of commercial tenants, they look to MSC founder Salove and principal partner Douglas Green. Their staffers are adept at turning boring city blocks into dynamic communities. Last year alone, they played real estate matchmaker for Uniqlo, Under Armour, Independence Beer Garden and more.
The Showoff: Carl Dranoff
Dranoff, a stalwart developer with a history of building spaces that connect neighborhoods to each other, is set to break ground on a pair of projects that will expand Philly’s swanky side. The tower planned for Spruce and South Broad streets is 47 stories of luxe residential units and a fancy SLS hotel, while One Riverside in Fitler Square will be the first high-end condo tower built since the recession.
The Long-Awaited Rejuvenator: John Connors
Connors — Brickstone Realty’s local managing partner — has been snatching up properties (four just recently) in the Midtown Village/Market East area, kicking the turnaround efforts into high gear. On the books: capping Lit Brothers with an enormous (controversial) electronic billboard and adding a mixed-use tower on the building’s backside, which will move our skyline east.
The Kingpin: Allan Domb
Condo king? Please. Domb’s dominion stretches way beyond condos — the developer/realtor is Center City’s de facto planner. He’s head of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors, and his pro-development voice carries real weight at City Hall, while his own projects continue to elevate swaths of Rittenhouse — he’s set to add more fancy rentals and custom homes soon.
The Quiet Transformers: James Pearlstein and Reed Slogoff
Together, the power-house duo runs Pearl Properties, a full-service local development, leasing and construction company. Their portfolio is ever-growing; they own impactful buildings in high-traffic Center City zones like Walnut Street (leasing to tenants like Di Bruno Bros., Chipotle and Amis). But lately they’ve been flexing their developmental arms: They built and quickly sold the modern Granary apartments that are catty-corner to the Barnes; they built a high-end apartment complex on the 1600 block of Sansom that houses Abe Fisher and Adolf Biecker Spa/Salon; and they now own a chunk of Chestnut Street between 19th and 20th, where they have plans to build a 26-story residential tower and do something (anyone’s guess!) with the old Boyd Theatre — a hotly debated undertaking.
Trend #5: The Hotels Cometh
The city’s long-missing hospitality element is finally here. By James Jennings
This month marks the 15th anniversary of the first time we didn’t get a W Hotel. As you may recall, Will Smith purchased a swath of land in Society Hill with plans to bring a glowy W Hotel to his hometown. The project was dead a year later, and Smith sold the site and fled way past West Philly to his adopted SoCal home.
Despite that episode, 2000 was actually a hallmark year for the local hospitality industry — the Republican National Convention came to town, and the Loews, Ritz-Carlton and Sofitel all opened.
But since then? Meh. A few projects have debuted over the decades, most notably the Kimptons in Rittenhouse and Old City, which, while not trendsetting, brought some panache to our rather staid hotel scene. Now, all of that appears to be changing. A total of seven hotel projects have been announced in Center City (plus one in University City), and some of them are pretty captivating.
“Hotels define a city,” says developer Carl Dranoff, who is set to bring the most significant new one to town: a 47-story glam SLS International Hotel on the corner of Broad and Spruce streets. “When people visit a city, they know it by their hotels. Philadelphia is emerging as a global city. It’s our time to shine.” The operators of the SLS were actively looking to open up a Philly branch — they didn’t need to be lured in. Currently there are only three SLS hotels in the world (in Beverly Hills, South Beach and Vegas), while a few others are planned for cities like Beijing and Manhattan.
The SLS is set to be joined by another Kimpton, a Hudson Hotel, a new Four Seasons at the top of the new Comcast building, a luxury replacement for the old Four Seasons, and, wait for it … a W Hotel (although the brand doesn’t quite have the swank factor it did a decade ago). Developer Brook Lenfest will pair the W up with the more budget-friendly Element Hotel brand that — with a proposed plan for a combined 755 rooms — will sit on 15th and Chestnut streets, towering over its new neighbor, the Ritz.
The turnaround can be attributed to our growing global status (thanks, Barnes!), a booming economy, and banks that are lending again. Plus, according to Jack Ferguson, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, the dynamic management changes at the Convention Center helped to make 2014 the strongest year for future bookings in a decade, with a 47 percent increase in new business from 2013 to 2014. And with that comes a demand for rooms — the city’s hotel occupancy rate was 76 percent in 2014, the highest it has been since 1949.
However, this is still Philadelphia, so we shouldn’t quite forget all the projects that never were. The W Hotel’s tax subsidy was approved in 2013, and we are finally, just last month, seeing some construction vehicles on the property grounds — but no timeline confirmations. “It’s not a sexy project without a hotel component included,” says Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association. “I don’t consider them real until I see a shovel in the ground.” So let’s just agree to be cautiously optimistic. We’ve waited 15 years; what’s a few more?
Trend #6: A New Kind of Business
The new Comcast building is going to change everything. By Liz Spikol
Eventually, we learned. The completion of One Liberty Place in 1987 finally “gave the city’s skyline a distinctive profile,” as Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger put it. By 2007, when Comcast erected its first glass tower — one of the 20 tallest in the U.S. — we recognized it for what it was: a triumphant blend of style and sustainability, and a broadening of the city’s architectural possibilities.
Those possibilities were realized just seven years later when plans were announced for the New Comcast Building. (Despite its official title as the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center, it’ll always be referred to as the “New Comcast Building.”) And this building — of all the things currently being constructed in this city — is truly revolutionary. Yes, it will be the newest and biggest (actually, it will be the tallest building in the country outside of New York or Chicago), but that’s not what sends our superlatives into hyper-drive. First, there’s its pedigree: It’s being designed by London-based architect Norman Foster — the man who has created a bevy of spectacular buildings that keep cities like New York and London looking like modern superpowers — marking the first time the city has gotten a skyscraper from someone who’s won a Pritzker Prize and the AIA Gold Medal and is a lord and was knighted. “The building is, as a tower, like nothing that has happened before,” Foster has said — and given that one of his most famous towers is nicknamed “Gherkin” because of its resemblance to a giant pickle, we believe him. (Foster’s firm is also designing a building for Penn.) The interior will be designed by San Francisco-based blockbuster firm Gensler, which recently completed the Shanghai Tower in China.
Then there’s the way Comcast II is changing Philadelphia’s perspective by including a glass-walled top-floor restaurant and Four Seasons hotel 900 feet above the city. That’s 400 feet higher than any view of Philly we currently have. Finally, there’s the ownership: Comcast — a company that once felt as homespun as souvenir flags at the Betsy Ross House — is now the world’s largest media corporation, with an international profile to match. It plans to use the new building not only as a center where innovation happens, but as a model of it; the “vertical campus” will combine entities that don’t typically sit cheek by jowl, including a luxury hotel, TV stations, gardens, start-up space, and a public gathering area that will connect to underground transportation — all of which, if it works, could serve as a template for future high-density building. (The mix of people in the building will be novel, too: Programmer types in hoodies will find themselves mixing it up with suited-up business-types.) As buildings go, there’s nothing in Philadelphia like it. Let’s recognize this moment in architectural innovation and singularity of use for what it is — it will give the din of city construction a frisson you didn’t know it could have.
Behind the Boom: Business
The Booster: John Grady
It’s not just the half-billion-dollar portfolio that gives Grady more clout than the Commerce Department. As president of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, he’s got a hand in almost every economic bright spot in our city — from StartUp PHL to potential development on the Schuylkill. But Grady’s crown jewel remains the Navy Yard’s transformation into a corporate campus with 11,000 jobs. It might be the best turnaround we’ve seen since the Rendell era.
The Comcast Darling: Bill Hankowsky
Hankowsky owns an impressive amount of office spaces around the world, but it’s the state-of-the-art symbolism (see: the Comcast Tower) that defines his tenure as Liberty Property Trust’s CEO. At the Navy Yard, LPT helped pull together the master architectural plan. With Comcast II (and maybe III?) under way, Hankowsky continues to push the city’s rents, tech-innovation scene and sky limits even further.
The City Hall Muscle: Rina Cutler and Alan Greenberger
Elegance and practicality are tough to marry when it comes to urban renewal. But former architect Greenberger, Nutter’s economic-development and commerce guy, has been officiating projects that do just that. From revitalizing the Market East area to the Delaware River Waterfront to Dilworth Park, he’s the man pulling all the pieces and people together. Cutler, as czar of transportation and utilities for the city, has overseen the beautification of some key projects that have had immediate community impact, like the Manayunk Bridge Trail and the Porch at 30th Street Station. She’s also working to overhaul the 40th Street Trolley portal, which should improve transportation and spur development.
Trend #7: The Navy Yard Is Unsinkable
This flourishing business zone is actually just getting started.
|# of new and/or renovated buildings||2 new projects; # of renovations unknown||41||30|
|Occupied square footage||4.6 million||7 million||13.5 million|
|# of businesses||65||150||300|
|# of employees||6,000 (estimated)||11,000||25,000 to 30,000|
|# of hotels and residential units||0||1 hotel; no residential units||2-plus hotels; 1,000-plus residential units|
|Notable businesses/projects||Urban Outfitters Inc., Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, U.S. Navy||GSK (GlaxoSmithKline), Iroko Pharmaceuticals, RevZilla motorsports, Tasty Baking Company||Franklin Square Capital Partners, Mercer Café, a potential Broad Street Line extension|
*Information provided by PIDC based on estimated plans
Trend #8: The Changing Neighborhoods
What recession? As Center City roars back, the neighborhoods near it do, too. Here, a detailed look at how each section is faring, and the places where buyers are going gaga.
Select Neighborhood Stats
*Price and transaction data derived from HomExpert Market Report, a product of the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Research Division. Demographic information from the Census Bureau’s 2009–2013 American Community Survey.
From Hot Now to Hot Next
Hot Now: Point Breeze …
Why: This neighborhood continues to grow into its own — a direct shot to Rittenhouse and a growing restaurant and bar scene add to the appeal. The realtors say: “With so many rehabs and new construction projects, this area is rapidly exploding. There is still a lot of stock available for fixer-uppers. What I saw last year selling for $100,000 is selling for $200,000 this year,” says local realtor Mike McCann. Of note: Easy access to the subway and a changing Washington Avenue.
… Hot Next: Grays Ferry
Why: Just west of Point Breeze, Grays Ferry is ripe with investment opportunities. The location near the river, Grad Hospital, Rittenhouse and University City is a bonus. The realtors say: “Point Breeze still has a lot of room to grow and a lot of land to be improved upon. Grays Ferry is bound to follow in its footsteps,” says Karrie Gavin, of Elfant Wissahickon. Of note: Prime locations next to the expanding Schuylkill River Trail, which will be bolstered by developments from Penn and CHOP.
Hot Now: Fairmount …
Why: With character-laden houses and an elementary school that’s on the upswing, Fairmount continues to attract buyers. The realtors say: “This neighborhood has a great location and is a very desirable place to live. There’s lots of development happening of all types,” says McCann. Of note: The upcoming Reading Viaduct project, Pizzeria Vetri (and many other great restaurants), Mi Casita (the region’s first Spanish-immersion preschool), plus a quick shot to Fairmount Park and I-76.
… Hot Next: Brewerytown
Why: As the areas near Fairmount continue to change (see the upcoming Rodin Square apartment project that will have a mega Whole Foods) and housing prices rise, those wanting an old-school neighborhood with lower price points are migrating north. The realtors say: “Brewerytown is great for the first-time home buyer and young couples who are willing to put in some sweat equity,” says McCann. Of note: Aggressive residential developments from MM Partners.
Hot Now: East Passyunk …
Why: EP is all about quality eats, bars and shopping. There are Center City workers, artsy types, stroller-pushing parents, and Nonna sweeping her stoop. The realtors say: “This is white-hot because it’s an established area that still feels diverse and young, with a real sense of community. New construction is already around that $500,000 price point,” says McCann. Of note: Restaurants, bars and indie retail galore, plus easy access to the Broad Street line.
… Hot Next: Pennsport
Why: Pennsport — situated between EP, Queen Village and the river — continues to feed off those solid neighborhoods. There are new construction and rehab projects, but it still maintains that know-your-neighbor feeling. The realtors say: “Pennsport has no choice but to get hot. It’s a great way to be close to the action at a reasonable price point,” says Gavin. Of note: Burgeoning restaurant scene, great parks, and a soon-to-be-improved Delaware waterfront.
Hot Now: Fishtown …
Why: Fishtown is our Williamsburg — where all the most trendsetting, rule-breaking stores, bars and restaurants are opening. And with all of that comes the creative class. The realtors say: “Clients are moving to Fishtown from places like Bella Vista because of all the life there. It’s still reasonably priced but on its way up fast,” says McCann. Of note: Young, artsy residents and first-time home buyers mix it up with neighborhood lifers, adding to the authentic feel. Great shopping, drinking and eating.
… Hot Next: Kensington
Why: Fishtown is actually a pocket neighborhood within Kensington, and as the amenities on Frankford and Girard avenues grow, patient first-time home buyers are finding major deals a bit further afield. The realtors say: “We are seeing a real trickle-down situation because Fishtown has increased so rapidly,” says McCann. Of note: Large spaces ripe for renovations, artist cooperatives, and popular community events like the Kinetic Sculpture Derby and Trenton Avenue Arts Festival.
What’s in a Name?
As our neighborhoods rapidly change, so do their identities. What does that say about us? By Liz Spikol
I have a confession to make: Though I was born and raised in Philadelphia and have lived here for most of my adult life, there are at least five neighborhoods in this town that I had never heard of until I reached my 30s. It’s a shameful thing, but if someone had put a gun to my head 10 years ago and said, “Tell me about Yorktown!,” I would have assumed I was being drilled on my knowledge of the American Revolution. I would have been equally clueless on the subjects of Hawthorne and Whitman (I always thought those were famous authors) and Stanton and Newbold. And up until about a year ago, I certainly would have blanked if asked about 2015’s second-hottest neighborhood in the entire United States, Dickinson Narrows.
That’s right: According to online real estate portal and brokerage Redfin, potential home buyers looking for neighborhoods that offer the most bang for the buck should run to Dickinson Narrows. Redfin puts it ahead of Northern Liberties, Girard Estates, Fairmount and Kensington — all of which I’d heard of by the time I reached high school, thank you very much. What we at Philly Mag learned by covering the Dickinson Narrows bombshell online is this: There are people who live in Dickinson Narrows — which is somewhere in South Philly — who don’t even know where Dickinson Narrows is.
Neighborhood names and boundaries are tricky business in Philadelphia. Residents get quite agitated when they’re not categorized properly, but people who live next door to each other can (and often do) disagree about what ’hood they occupy. Why? Because where you live in this city really says something about you. When I lived in Cedar Park, I could say I lived in West Philly, or in University City, or in Southwest Philly. Each of those statements came with a different connotation, and I admit to identifying myself differently according to my interlocutor. If I was talking to an activist, for example, who was suspicious of my journalistic motives, saying I lived in West Philly generally relaxed that activist. But if an older relative was worried about my safety late at night, I’d say, “Oh for heaven’s sake, I live in University City,” as if to say, “Please, Amy Gutmann isn’t going to let me get murdered.” When I was doing social work and was met with skepticism by clients from lower-income backgrounds, saying I lived in “Southwest Philly” put them at ease. It’s the kind of shape-shifting we all do in different areas of our lives: Sometimes I blow-dry my hair to look more polished and grown-up; other times I cultivate bedhead and smear my eyeliner. In New York, everyone knows what “uptown” and “downtown” mean, but you can’t live in both at the same time. In Philly, you can.
There’s no official list of neighborhood boundaries in Philadelphia because of the city’s inherent contradiction: It’s an old city that ceaselessly evolves. It’s a place that was mapped out hundreds of years ago but is being shaken up by rapid change. So as Point Breeze (a name minted, it seems, in the 19th century) morphs into Newbold (a coinage of neighborhood real estate developers around 2007), who gets to decide? It’s not always clear.
Sometimes we look to local community groups for direction. There are civic associations, which can be organized by census tract, police district or block-party preference. Take Passyunk, for example. I used to edit a real estate website that had a competition in which people could vote for the best Philadelphia neighborhood. I didn’t pick the contenders myself; I simply put out a request and then matched up all the submissions in a bracket-style voting contest. Of course, in the end the final bracket was … Passyunk Square vs. East Passyunk Crossing, two neighborhood groups that are basically in the same neighborhood, although they oversee parts of different zip codes. I thought people were going to come after me with pitchforks. How dare we feature two places that are, according to many Philadelphians, the same neighborhood? How can they be facing off against each other when they actually are just across the street? Luckily, the groups decided to take the competition in good fun and made a deal: The runner-up would bring vittles to the first-place finisher’s next meeting — which morphed into a (one) neighborhood party with food courtesy of local restaurants.
Sometimes a neighborhood name makes people angry — to the point of printing up bumper stickers. When the University of Pennsylvania pushed “University City,” stickers began popping up: “University City is a marketing scheme.” But I recently saw an online comment in response to those stickers. It said “‘University City is a marketing scheme’ is a marketing scheme.” The meta-gentrification shark had officially been jumped.
Realtors also get into the boxing ring, by being seriously flexible with boundaries. It shocks me to see homes listed as being in Northern Liberties when they’re clearly in Kensington — which is itself an especially bedeviling neighborhood. Let’s just look at the never-never land Kenzos live in for a moment.
According to many maps and books, Kensington is bounded by groups of blocks that clearly encompass other neighborhoods. I once wrote about a development in Kensington, as opposed to “South Kensington,” and was upbraided by phone and email. There are likewise people who advocate specifically for Olde Kensington, or East Kensington. So you see, it’s not enough to say “Kensington.” In fact, that’s just a starting point. Because, dear God, Fishtown has to get in there, too.
Not long ago, I was describing some very happy days I had living in Bella Vista back in the ’90s, and a listener told me I’d actually been living in Hawthorne. What? How could this be? I’d never heard of that name till this year. Further research has led me to believe I was living close to Hawthorne, but not in Hawthorne — which shouldn’t matter anyway, as my experience of the neighborhood was the same. And yet I was quite attached to my memory of Bella Vista as Bella Vista. Don’t take that away from me!
Do you know where you live? Are you sure? You might live in the hottest neighborhood in Philadelphia, actually. I think it’s called Waterson Court. Let me know if you find it.
A Q&A With Jared Brey
The PlanPhilly reporter on why zoning really matters. Interview by James JenningsHow has the zoning code recently changed?
City Council adopted a new zoning code in 2012. Now it’s shorter and there are new rules requiring developers to meet with community groups when they’re seeking an exception to the code. The on-going work is updating the zoning maps for every neighborhood in the city.
What is “councilmanic prerogative”?
When a district Council member introduces a bill that affects only his or her district, the other 16 Council members routinely agree not to interfere. This essentially means that a district Council member has the only decision that matters. Theoretically, this new forward-looking zoning map would mean there would be no need to rezone properties one at a time in City Council. In reality, developers are always going to want to do something beyond what’s allowed. As long as that’s the case, and until we get a Council full of people who are fond of debating proposals on their merits, councilmanic prerogative is still going to be impactful.
What is an “overlay”?
It’s a specially carved-out area with its own rules about building size and property uses. There’s an overlay on Germantown Avenue, for example, that specifically prohibits beauty parlors, cell-phone stores, dollar stores, and certain other types of businesses.
Explain the significance of “floor area ratio” and what it means to builders.
Say you have a bottle of whiskey. You can pour it into a few wide and shallow bowls, or you can pour it into a tower of shot glasses, but you won’t get any more whiskey. That’s more or less how floor area ratio works. If you have a 1,000-square-foot property with a floor area ratio of five, you can build a five-story building that covers the whole lot, or a 10-story building that covers half of the lot. You can also earn bonuses — extra whiskey — for including elements that serve a public interest, like low-income housing units or energy-saving solar panels.
The terms “corrective rezoning” and “spot zoning” were thrown around a lot in the recent debates over the Hudson Hotel proposal. What are those?
“Corrective rezoning” usually refers to a change that brings a property’s zoning classification into line with the wider neighborhood plan. “Spot zoning” usually means that a property is being rezoned to benefit a certain project, and in a way that doesn’t jibe with the plan for the surrounding area. People usually get pissed about the latter.
Behind the Boom: The Neighborhoods
The Southern Crusaders: Ori Feibush and John Longacre
You can’t talk neighborhood turnarounds in this city without talking about Point Breeze and Newbold. Between developers Feibush and Longacre, the southside makeover has meant hundreds of residential projects, plus a handful of coffee-shop hangs and neighborhood-making pubs. Longacre recently purchased an out-of-business theater and will announce plans for a mixed-use project later this month. The fruits of the two men’s independent labors have blossomed into one remarkable transformation, ripe with new business, new energy and, yes, new buyers in the once-decrepit area.
The Frankford Phenom: Roland Kassis
You know those Frankford Avenue warehouses that make Fishtown so cool? Kassis pretty much owns them all. He spends his time luring in the types of businesses (and rejecting some) that build a community: restaurants, coffee shops, yoga studios, gyms. Next up: two apartment complexes and, eventually, a hotel.
The Northern Block-Builders: Aaron Smith, Jacob Roller and David Waxman
This founding team of MM Partners are the main players and planners right now in Brewerytown — Fairmount’s fast-changing northwestern neighbor. The trio is leading the charge — and having a significant impact — by conceiving, rehabbing, building and leasing modern residential units like apartments, townhomes and condos, some with private parking and most with a cool industrial, loft-y feel. Plus, they recognize that any great neighborhood needs more stuff and so are building out spaces for retail and restaurants (such as neighborhood social hub Rybrew, the sandwich/beer shop mash-up). They’re literally building up the newly hot ’hood, one project at a time, and there’s no sign of slowing down — they have plans to invest another $60 million in mixed-use projects over the next couple of years, including the ambitious Girard27, a development at, yes, 27th and Girard that will have 68 apartments, 10 townhomes and 15,000 square feet of retail space.