Temple Students Think North Philly’s a Wasteland They’re There to Rescue

In between tossing Solo cups on the sidewalks.

As a former Temple student who lived in off-campus housing, I apologize to the residents of North Central Philadelphia. Not necessarily for my actions (although I lived in and visited many a party house before graduating in 2010), nor the actions of the majority of the student community. No, I mainly apologize for those among us who are basically asking you, North Philadelphia, to have a seat and take your medicine.

The medicine in question is the North Central Neighborhood Improvement District (NCNID), a proposal to institute a seven percent property tax hike on businesses and non-single family dwellings in neighborhoods surrounding Temple’s campus. The NCNID, which originated from the office of City Council President Darrell Clarke, would then use those funds to improve the area by cleaning it up and making it safer.

Here’s some advice for current Temple students: Ditch the naivety. It was the fall of 2008 when L&I started knocking on doors of student houses in Yorktown, just south of campus, and serving them eviction notices. Students were outraged, and as a part of Temple Student Government, I began looking into why L&I was suddenly enforcing single-family-only building codes that had been on the books for years.

Let’s put it this way: Clarke was not on the side of the students.

The political skill that Clarke has used to ascend to council president is well documented. He knows how to play the game, and the NCNID is perfect X’s and O’s: It appears to better North Philly for both students and residents, at the expense of those rich landlords.

So why are the landlords all for it? Why are those greedy money-grabbers who you have to call a dozen times to fix your 1980s dishwasher and drop rat pellets in the walls, why are they lining up behind a seven percent tax hike?

Because guess who actually foots the bill? You, the student, when the landlord raises your rent seven percent. Then Jimmy TwoTimes landlord gets free street cleaning and foot patrols.

Guess what happens then. Property values shoot higher, enabling Jimmy TwoTimes to command an increased rent, and forcing more longtime residents out. What a wonderful proposal, instead of, you know, sweeping your own street.

That’s on top of all of the other concerns already addressed by many media outlets over the NCNID, particularly the absence of a voting say for citizens who live there, and a lack of specifics about how and where the money will be used.

Which allows me to arrive at my second piece of advice for Temple students: Don’t act like you know what’s better for North Philadelphia than the residents who have been there their whole lives.

For all I know, the NCNID has absolutely zero ill will behind it, and the scenario I just proposed will never occur. Instead, the Solo cups littering the streets will be collected and reused as flowerpots for beautiful, blooming flowers. Pops in the night will not be gunshots, but spectacular displays of fireworks. Rainbows will run wild and free.

But if there’s one thing residents of Philadelphia have learned, it’s never to take anything at face value. Especially when it’s coming from City Hall, and especially when nobody gave a damn for decades until the money showed up.

Don’t get me wrong; Temple has and continues to do tremendous good for North Philadelphia, and there’s no denying that. We’re talking millions, even billions of dollars of investments from private businesses, in addition to philanthropy and services directly from the university, in the past decade alone.

But all of that is kind of hard to remember when you see someone urinating, or even fornicating, in your back alleyway. Or when you have to move your six-year-old son from his bedroom on a Thursday night because of the dub-step thumping on the other side of a two-foot wall.

But unfortunately, the attitude of too many Temple students is that residents should just shut up and deal with it, because they’re (their parents’ money) is saving North Philadelphia from itself. The worst example I’ve seen was a student’s Facebook comment on a news story about community members gathering to discuss nuisance houses:

“How can they complain about noise, when they’re the ones robbing us at gun point!”

Besides the fact that this particular comment is downright racist, an only slightly watered-down version is still pervasive among Temple students.

And the belief that North Philadelphia is a wasteland, entirely devoid of any upstanding citizens worthy of a say in their own community, needs to stop.

The university, for its part, has taken some steps to alleviate the situation. The 20-plus-story dormitory and other housing projects laid out in Temple’s 20/20 plan are a great start to stop the rapid influx of students into off-campus housing.

However, Temple can do much more to foster understanding between students and the community. Get rid of the mandatory race classes, where students Spark Note and Google search their way through Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches. Instead, get them out into the neighborhoods with required community engagement classes.

Also, set up a corps of off-campus students who can act as block leaders, and have them meet with residential block captains on a street-by-street basis. Help the situation not just through separation and philanthropy, but through dialogue and understanding.

When it comes down to it, the battle between students and residents shouldn’t have to have a winner. Neither side is entirely right, and neither entirely wrong.

Instead, steps should be taken to foster a truly progressive urban neighborhood where both sides live and work with one another. Both have been there for more than 100 years and have more in common than they might think.

After all, nobody likes it when the rent is too damn high.