The only school I was accepted to was Temple University. Had I gotten into Villanova or Boston College, my father would have turned his car around the second he drove down Girard Avenue. Instead of entering campus via Broad Street, we got lost somewhere in North Philadelphia. When we stopped to ask a cop for directions, he looked at my father and said, “Your car is a weapon. Use it. Do not stop at red lights and keep going.”
Four years later I have matured and that scary part of the city has also gone through quite a metamorphosis. Gentrification is not just replacing local people with lattes, it is redefining this city.
Gentrification has been changing the face of North Philadelphia, newly developed areas of Northern Liberties and Old Kensington (north of Northern Liberties). However, local people are losing their communities to increased rent and iPod-toting hipsters. As our campus continues to expand into these areas, triggering such effects, should we celebrate or lament the change?
As far as my father is concerned, the rising standards of North Philadelphia are a plus, but considering the local perspective, gentrification is literally tearing down the walls of long existing neighborhoods.
In the Jan. 26 edition of Philadelphia Weekly, Kia Gregory reported that local people of the newly gentrified north are rightfully feeling betrayed by the development. As she reported, “housing prices skyrocketed 200 percent between 1997 and 2002” in the Old Kensington area of the city. Councilman Darrell Clarke addressed the pivotal issue in Gregory’s article, saying, “Do nothing and let the neighborhood deteriorate, or try to improve the neighborhood.”
I want the improvement to succeed, not for the hope that new development will turn Temple’s campus into a hip urbanity like Northern Liberties but for the sake of safety and security.
In four years, the university has evolved into a bustling campus, overcrowded at times, but also offering a college life for students. Even today, the benefits of the campus are overshadowed by the negative perception of North Philadelphia. Gregory herself said North Philadelphia, was “once dubbed, North Filthy.” To some extent the area has earned the title. Gregory said North Philadelphia has been shadowed by the “reputation as the city’s poorest, dirtiest, most blighted and crime-ridden area.”
Some local people see gentrification as the enemy. Gregory interviewed Donna Saunders, a North Philadelphian, who felt the perpetrator of her neighborhood sanctity was now mainly developers. Gregory said for Saunders, the thief of her neighborhood, “has had many faces: white flight, government neglect, blight, crime and drugs. Today, ironically, the thief is the redevelopment of her broken neighborhood.” Perhaps the phrase “broken neighborhood” needs to be considered. For the sake of improvement and safety of these neighborhoods, change has to occur.
Gregory’s article alludes to the notion that gentrification is simply about investment and money making, yet I see more than dollar signs when I look at the results of recently developed West Philadelphia.
At first the gentrification around the University of Pennsylvania’s campus seemed unjust. Rumors circulated that a murdered professor triggered the rehabilitation of the area. This enraged me; only the death of an Ivy League professor merits neighborhood improvement?
I envisioned students sporting Lacoste polo shirts under navy-blue blazers pushing out local residents. However, as the community has grown, there is a clear harmony between local people and new businesses. Sure, it has taken time for West Philadelphia to adhere to the change, but local businesses like the Fresh Grocer and The Bridge movie theater have certainly created jobs for the area.
A once “broken” West Philadelphia neighborhood is now a bonafide mecca happily regarded as University City. It is an area marketable enough to reap the benefits of tourism but also keeps its local appeal. For example, the amazing ethnic restaurants have created a neutral ground where students can rub elbows with locals.
North Philadelphia’s vacant buildings that amount to an urban wasteland should not define this area. Gentrification is not just about creating blocks of cyber cafes, it is about revitalization and safety. Most definitely, it is about being proactive to rectify the blight of our “broken neighborhood.”
Nicole D’Andrea can be reached at email@example.com.