North Philly Residents Don’t Hate Temple. They Hate Change.

Darrell Clarke’s proposed North Central Neighborhood Improvement District is getting a bad rap from residents who don’t want their community to evolve.

North Philadelphia residents are blinded by a community pride so strong they can’t see the benefits of a new proposal aimed at helping their neighborhood.

The relationship between Temple University and the surrounding residents has been chilly for years. In October, Councilman Darrell Clarke proposed the North Central Neighborhood Improvement District (NCNID) to help engender a stronger, more positive relationship between the neighbors and the university.

Ray Betzner, Temple’s vice president of university communications, acknowledged the residents’ concerns, saying that over the last several years, the dynamics around the North Philly campus have changed. “For most of Temple’s history, it has been a commuter campus, but over the last decade we are seeing more students coming from regions we never got before.” Residents complain that student lifestyles—loud parties and immature behavior—are harming their communities.

Clarke’s proposal calls for a seven percent property tax increase on owners of rental properties and businesses to improve safety, clean the neighborhood, and make other improvements in the North Philly areas included in the district. All of these changes are positive contributions to the community that would benefit both neighborhood residents and Temple students. Initial plans suggest that the first year’s budget would be around $450,000, paid for by the tax, as well as donations from local nonprofits and a significant contribution from Temple University.

However, according to the proposal, single-owned-and-occupied houses would be exempt from paying the tax. While property-owning residents would reap the benefits of the proposed NCNID—without being asked to pay the tax—many are angered because they are unable to vote. Ronnica Davis, 24, grew up in the neighborhood and feels the sting of being left out of the process. She said, “Sometimes I’m made to feel like a minority in my own neighborhood.” She’s one of many angry local residents.

While not allowing property-owning residents to vote doesn’t exactly bolster community relations, the NCNID doesn’t deserve the bad reputation it’s getting. (Last week, the Daily News ran an article titled “Temple of Doom,” decrying the impact of student behavior on the community.)

However, residents need to understand that the NCNID was created specifically to allay their fears and foster a positive relationship. It is not meant to create new problems.

Residents should also note that according to the proposed plan, the NCNID would answer to a nonprofit—lead by a board of directors comprised of three community members, three business owners, two Temple University representatives, and the District Council member—created specifically for conducting the business and affairs of the district. They would not be left out of the decision-making process because they would be represented on this board of directors.

Temple’s Betzner also notes that Temple does not own any of the off-campus property. “That is simply private companies responding to a perceived need, in this case student housing.” (And these private companies would be paying the seven-percent tax.) He adds that measures—like contributing to the NCNID and building the new 24-floor residence hall—are attempts by the University to show the community the university is listening to their concerns and trying to help.

Still, neighbors are upset because they don’t want to see their neighborhood evolve.

The NCNID has become a scapegoat for these particular residents, who hope that by opposing the bill, they can prevent change for a little longer. Sadly, they fear what is inevitable—that the neighborhood is changing and it’s out of their control.

Bri Bosak is a journalism student at Temple University.

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  • Jack Franze

    Temple has given more to North Philadelphia than local residents know. Obvious direct improvements in the last few years include: Superfresh and a revived Progress Plaza along with the Shoppes at Avenue North, the new Morgan Hall complex which will open soon, expanded security into neighborhoods via TU police and contracted security guards, massive numbers of skilled and non-skilled jobs for local residents as the university and associated businesses expand, TU hospital expansion of services (the new Children’s hospital and other expansions to the existing hospital) and research centers providing world class healthcare, education, and research that is created at Temple. These all directly benefit the community and bringing billions of dollars overall into the Philadelphia region. All of these benefits, among many others, have enriched the Philadelphia region and North Philadelphia. Legendary former basketball coach, John Cheney, during “5k Help For A Day” in 2006, which I attended, stated, “If Temple weren’t here, all that would be left is a giant hole in the middle of North Broad Street.” This is a true metaphor. If you go north, south, or west, all of these neighborhoods have collapsing buildings, massive numbers of vacancies, and violence and drugs are in abundant supply. Temple has been here longer than any living resident of North Philadelphia. Temple has been loyal to the North Philadelphia community and didn’t relocate to the suburbs in the 1960s as some wanted. Now, Temple is maturing into a world class university with initiative and drive for research, great academics, nationally ranked sports programs, and a nurturing educational environment. Part of this nurturing environment and evolution of the institution includes not just an OK, but good quality of life. This good quality of life should include residents, and therefore, make the community a more livable place with increased shopping options, security, and aesthetically pleasing scenery, a feeling of security, less crime, less vacant lots, less angry and violent drug addicts, etc.