Harrington: North Philadelphia receives much-needed financial attention

Gentrification and its associated increase of financial income will actually improve the community’s well-being.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Chad Dion Lassiter took to the philly.com recently to decry Temple’s role in the gentrification of our region of North Philadelphia. It began when Google re-labeled the region around Main Campus “Temple Town” on its maps application. Community leaders took to the local media and voiced their displeasure at what they saw as a hostile rebranding of the neighborhood, known officially as the “Cecil B. Moore Community.” Google Maps dropped the name in September, but the debate over Temple’s role in the local community is still a hot button issue.

The way Lassiter sees it, the influx of businesses, real estate developers and student residents into the area around Main Campus is tantamount to institutional racism.

I respectfully disagree with his summary. Change and transition is always painful. It is unfortunate that communities get displaced, and that it is happening here; but the fact that millennial students want a quality education in a safe urban environment is not racist.

Temple is bringing resources to the community. The student population living off campus stimulates the local economy. Cash is flowing from the tenants, to the landlords, and to the city in the form of property taxes.  Those student-tenants are buying groceries locally, they’re using SEPTA, they’re paying city payroll taxes and most of all, they’re going out on the town.

It may be a crass argument, but the more people with disposable income moving to the city, the better, because that money that people spend locally funnels directly back to the city. The more we go out to bars and restaurants, the more we go to events, the more venues and businesses that open to support our urban lifestyles, the more money the city gets in taxes.

The phenomenon of “white flight” depleted the city’s tax base to mostly the poorest people in the city. Moreover, the dilapidated and tax delinquent properties all over North Philadelphia have been a further drain on the tax base, adding $9.5 billion in uncollected city tax revenue, according to planphilly.com. In addition, tax delinquent properties lower the values of single-family homes around them – meaning those homes get taxed less, resulting in less city revenue.  In short, when a few properties don’t pay their fair share of city taxes and fall into squalor and disrepair, the losses increase exponentially.

According to planphilly.com, the national average rate for property tax collection – or taxes collected on time – in the U.S. was 95 percent in 2011. It was about 85.6 percent that same year in Philadelphia.  These are property taxes, the ones that pay for things like public schools.

Temple’s gentrification is the opposite of white flight. The millennial generation is realizing the limitations of life in the suburbs and starting to migrate back to urban centers, and they’re bringing their skills and their wallets with them.  TempleTown Realty and Temple Villas are buying up those delinquent and abandoned properties and turning them into profitable real estate for the city.  That is why Temple’s push to gentrify the neighborhood will benefit it more in the end than if Temple had left the neighborhood alone. Many millennials want to spend their lives in cities. The only way that will happen is if the economic infrastructure of the city is amenable. This includes living-wage jobs, modern transit infrastructure, public safety, affordable public education and a vibrant nightlife.

All this being said, what also must happen is that the incoming millennial population must find a way to strike a respectful social balance with the local community at the same time. Just because we live here doesn’t mean we can just impose our social footprint on those who’ve lived here for years. We should look to the neighborhoods along Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia, which underwent similar gentrification transitions years ago.

The area is filled with University City students, faculty and other urban professionals. The newcomers – if they can still be called “new” – found a way to find a positive social interactive balance with the long-term residents West Philadelphia. While we have every right to move into the area around Main Campus, we all have to acknowledge that it’s a community of both newcomers and life-long residents.

Lucke Harrington can be reached at luke.harrington@temple.edu and on twitter @Duke_Harrington


  1. “Change is always painful” is an incredibly callous and inhuman way to say, “families can not afford to shop or own a home in their own neighborhood.” You say this influx of suburban students with disposable income is good for Philadelphia, but for whose Philadelphia? Maybe for white Philadelphia, but not for black Philadelphia. Temple students aren’t spending their money in North Philadelphia. When students “go out on the town,” they either go to the 3 “campus bars” (Maxi’s, the Draught Horse, and Masters) which are staffed almost entirely by Temple students or go to Center City or South Philly. All this new money spent in North Philly goes to businesses that serve the “Temple Town” community and not the North Philly that’s been here for generations. If the “opposite of white flight” is pushing out poor black communities, how is that a good thing? By defending gentrification, you’ve successfully shown exactly why it is not only a force that damages communities, but also one that is rooted in white privilege.

    • I think these communities invited enough destruction when they allowed drugs, guns, and violence to take over their neighborhoods. Slum lords do more to directly damage low-income communities than white privilege in my opinion. When the community rioted in 1964, it destroyed many businesses which never reopened in that neighborhood. It sure made people feel better to cause a little destruction (over a manufactured scandal) but it started the slide into the slum the CBMoore community became by the 90s. It also doesn’t really matter where people spend money because property and sales taxes benefit the whole city not just the neighborhoods where they’re collected. The welfare state can do a lot for low-income communities but it isn’t the end-all-be-all, look what that ALONE has done for North Philadelphia in the last 40 years. You need to mix profitable private business with government assistance to revive a community. A city can’t survive just on welfare handouts. Everyone has to earn their keep.

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