What Will It Take for New Philadelphians to Clean Up City Hall?

As the city's population grows, our corridors of power remain the same.

The new Philadelphians of Point Breeze are particularly appalled.

Chief among them is the precocious and controversial Ori Feibush. Raised in Upper Dublin, Feibush, just 28, has already built himself a small real estate empire called OCF Realty. Feibush has had a hand in constructing at least 150 homes. He owns a pair of coffee shops and a popular real estate blog called Naked Philly, and his real estate agents are active in every cranny of the city that appeals to new Philadelphians.

But Feibush is different from most of them in a key respect. He is blunt and confrontational, and he has no qualms about getting into scrums with the sort of traditional po­wers—city agencies, Council members, long-established community groups—that more discreet developers avoid.

This helps explain why Feibush has become the face of gentrification in Point Breeze, opening him up for some nasty treatment. At some of his construction sites, windows have been shot out. One night he came home to find a dead pit bull on his doorstep.

This sort of gentrification tension isn’t exactly new, of course, but it hasn’t been as common in Philadelphia as in some other cities that are further along in the redevelopment arc. That makes Point Breeze, which sits south of Washington and west of Broad, an instructive preview of a conflict we can expect more of if Center City continues to expand: the old-fashioned political power of longtime residents matched against the economic might of the new Philadelphians.

Leaders of the old Point Breeze have played tough from the moment they smelled the gentrification coming. They fear higher rents and taxes, and, worse, becoming strangers in their own neighborhood. So some sought a moratorium against new three-story homes. Others abruptly called an end to community meetings when it looked like the vote was going against them. And I witnessed one incident—in the aftermath of a racially charged meeting at the end of January—that looked an awful lot like vote tampering.

All of this has come as something of a shock to the new Philadelphians of Point Breeze, who were convinced they were uplifting the community, nobly converting it from an urban wasteland into a neighborhood with gastropubs and $300,000 townhomes topped with roof decks. They’ve responded to the hostility as they always do: with new community groups and park cleanups.

I ask Feibush: Will that be enough? I expect him, of all people, to believe that new Philadelphians need to get engaged in the political system. But even Feibush doesn’t see the point. “What else would you have us do? New Philadelphians and sane people aren’t programmed to deal with a system this corrupt,” he says, in his typically unrestrained way. “The reality in Philadelphia is that if the political system wants something, they’re going to figure out how to get it.”