Can Philly Afford its Fight Against Gentrification?

Photo | Laura Kicey

Photo | Laura Kicey

One of the cruel things about gentrification is that it can be like wanting someone who doesn’t want you back. Those who face the impact of gentrification have an unrequited love with a neighborhood that changes right before their eyes, only to do tell them that things are different now.

It’s not you, it’s me.

The building uncertainty, insecurity, change and devastation involved in gentrification is like a real estate break up that leaves former partners, who once grew together, standing on opposite sides as the other moves on to become a bigger, better (and probably greener) pasture.

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On Spike Lee’s Gentrification Speech, or Why Won’t They Build a Fancy New Grocery Store in Mantua?

Photo |

Photo |

There has been considerable ink dedicated to chronicling the ongoing battle between culture and capital as Brooklyn becomes the epicenter of hipster chic.  Of all the things that I’ve read, this and this are easily the most demonstrative of the high cost of “neighborhood revitalization.”

Brooklyn native and architect of Brooklyn Boheme Cool, Spike Lee, has been vocal on the issues surrounding neighborhood turnover, especially as it has directly impacted his parents. “We been here!” was his refrain as he spoke honestly, candidly and truthfully about the erasures of peoples and cultures that happens when someone else decides to make an “investment.”

“Here’s the thing: I grew up here in Fort Greene. I grew up here in New York. It’s changed,” he said at Pratt Institute for a lecture in celebration of Black History Month. “And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better? The garbage wasn’t picked up every motherf*ckin’ day when I was living in 165 Washington Park. P.S. 20 was not good. P.S. 11. Rothschild 294 [...] So, why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!”

What’s frustrating is that Lee’s words were characterized as a “rant,” casting his ideas as unintelligible, unfounded or otherwise easily dismissible. What Lee said about Brooklyn can be said of many newfound “business corridors” that see an influx of typically younger, monied folks that cause the displacement of existing, long-term residents.

There are some who call that progress.

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Morning Headlines: Saffron Says New Templetown Housing Achieves the Impossible

paseo verde

Image of Paseo Verde apartment house via Paseo Verde website.

In her latest column, Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron writes about the new North Philadelphia development Paseo Verde, calling it “a trifecta of socially responsible development.” And it achieves what seems almost impossible: it “makes peace with gentrification.” If development around Ninth and Berks were to follow “the usual Philadelphia script,” says Saffron, there would be two possibilities:

Either the neighborhood would surrender to developers and allow a construction free-for-all. Or, it would dig in, using its political power to hold onto the acres of vacant land in the hope that someone, some day, might build subsidized housing.

Instead residents found a third, and better, way…

The four-story apartment house makes peace with gentrification by accepting high-end, modern apartments as a fact of life. But it also ensures that longtime residents will have a good place to live if the area takes off and prices spike.

To achieve that tricky balance, nearly half of Paseo Verde’s 129 units are set aside for low-income residents at reduced rents. The other 67 go for market rates. After a quiet opening in the fall, Paseo Verde is now home to a mix of Temple University students, professionals, and low-wage workers.

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Confessions of a Gentrifier

A few months ago, toward the end of the summer, I was walking my dog near my house in East Kensington when my neighbor Franky (not his real name) called out to me. Franky, who’s about 10, is a fixture on our block. He lives around the corner with his dad, his grandmother and his sister in a tired-looking house that doubles as a sort of informal command center for the neighborhood youth.

He spends his days with the other kids his age, doing kid things like playing football and lighting stuff on fire (it’s true, I caught him once).

Anyway, Franky loves my dog and when he sees us he usually runs up to give her a pat on the head. This time, as he scratched behind Mara’s ear, he had a question for me:

“Are yuppies rich?”

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Report: Chinatowns Still Disappearing

A report released two weeks ago confirms what people have been worrying about for a few years: That Chinatowns are a dying breed and that their death will lead to our beloved neighborhoods turning into only nominally distinct zones that all have the same pastel designs on their storefronts.
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“Opportunity Index” Ranks Philly, ’Burbs for Social Mobility

Chart of Philadelphia region from

In the decades since the term was first coined – in the preface of a 1931 book by historian James Truslow Adams – the notion of an “American Dream” that binds all U.S. citizens to a common goal of individual empowerment has taken on near religious significance. Four years into a recovery from the worst recession in more than half a century, it seems many of us have lost our faith.

A poll last month by The Washington Post and the Miller Center at the University of Virginia found that while a majority of respondents say the American Dream still has personal meaning to them, fewer than half think they have a chance of achieving it. And they’re pretty sure their kids won’t either.

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The Ori Feibush/Point Breeze Situation Just Got Incredibly Stupid

The latest in the case of Ori Feibush vs. The World is an accusation that OCF Realty’s Feibush fabricated violent, threatening, and grammatically poor text messages under the name of OCF critic Gary Broderick in a play to undermine him. After interviewing both parties and inspecting Feibush’s phone, we hold that the Point Breeze situation has become incredibly stupid.

The incident is super-confusing even by the standards of OCF drama, so sit back, relax and enjoy the oncoming tension headache:

Yesterday, the Point Breeze Organizing Committee, one of an ever-expanding mosaic of community groups in Point Breeze, issued a public “cease and desist” letter and video to Feibush. It’s a somewhat satirical take on Feibush’s own cease and desist letter that he sent to PBOC member Haley Dervinis after she protested a prospective OCF development in the neighborhood as the project was headed to the Zoning Board of Adjustments.
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“There Are No Urban Pioneers, Just Checkbooks With a Christopher Columbus Complex.”

A year ago, my best friend came into town for a conference and met me at my job for lunch. At the time, I was working at a non-profit in eastern North Philadelphia. She arrived at the corner of Third and Somerset Streets to pick me up, and as the blight of Fairhill yielded to the sprawl of Kensington, she started asking questions.

“OK. Um, whats going on, Philly?” she asked as she noticed broken sidewalks and vacant lots garnished with weeds. “Where are the grocery stores? Where are the schools? Who is allowing it to look like this?” Having visited me before, she referenced the disparities she’d noticed as a casual observer. “Where are the white folks? Everybody I’ve seen up here is black and brown.”

We continued down American Street and crossed Girard.

“This is ‘Northern Liberties,’ I said,” with cynical air quotes. “This is actually North Philly, too. But it’s been rebranded for the developers and hipsters.”
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