After history of tensions, a surge in gentrification

An influx of students in recent years has pushed community relations to the brink.

Developers market to students. | Alexis Wright-Whitley TTN
Developers market to students. | Alexis Wright-Whitley TTN

Rotting iron bars guard a set of windows that once revealed a home, long since hollowed out and abandoned. Broken glass, bricks and crumbling infrastructure lie scattered across the front yard of the house located on 16th and Jefferson Streets. A plastic bag, lifted by the wind, catches for a moment on the top spokes of a fence before drifting on to the steps of the next house.

The neighboring house is brand new, modular and compact. The rest of the block is filled with these buildings, lined up perfectly, each one stacked next to the other and equipped with its own Templetown Reality sign.

As Temple nears its 130th year as a resident of this North Philadelphia neighborhood, it continues to receive notable criticism from the community concerning the gentrification of the surrounding area. Recent tensions are often attributed to the conflicting lifestyles between college students and community members, as well as widespread distaste for university expansion.


“When you say gentrification itself, it’s a loaded term,” said James Hilty, a retired Temple history professor  who has written a book on the history of the university. “Many people think of gentrification as removing black families and replacing them with white, middle class families, in which old homes are removed and the old texture of a neighborhood is lost.”

Hilty said the physical infrastructure of North Philadelphia has been notably deteriorating since the 1950s, when many people referred to the neighborhood as a “slum.” Hilty said tension between the community and Temple peaked during this time.

Around this time, Temple became interested in specific areas to relocate the campus, like Cheltenham Township – near the location of Temple’s former football stadium – specifically in a plot of land along Cheltenham Avenue and the Cedarbrook Country Club. In 1950, Temple also considered land in Chestnut Hill and purchased the Randall Morgan Estate at Stenton and Willow Grove Avenues, but soon withdrew, Hilty said.

Hilty said the City of Philadelphia promised to increase funding efforts to clear and clean the land surrounding Main Campus in the 1950s, when President Robert Johnson decided the institution had an obligation to stay in North Philadelphia.

“What happened, of course, was that the bulldozers came in and started knocking down old row houses and buildings,” Hilty said.

The construction and expansion of Temple angered many community members, Hilty said.

“Around 1969, when the community said ‘enough’s enough,’ they sat down and had a simple community negotiation and they tried to discuss the extent in which Temple would expand and not expand,” Hilty said.

In 1969, Temple agreed to stay confined to about a 200-acre campus and give the city some properties that could be used for public housing. President Paul Anderson said the university would not expand west of Broad Street.

“They said Temple should stop extending at the cost of the neighborhood,” Hilty said. “And they did.”


In 2001, under the leadership of President David Adamany, Temple opened 1300 Residence Hall to accommodate 1,044 newly admitted, returning and transfer students on Main Campus.

It was two years after the university opened the 472-bed 1940 residence hall, and it would be another 12 years before the university built a new residence hall. The Edge, a privately owned complex off-campus, was partially leased by Temple between 2006 and 2013.

In the decade-plus of stagnated dorm expansion, off-campus housing boomed. University estimates place the number of students living off-campus at between 7,000 and 10,000, with the majority coming since 2000.

“A lot of other schools have evolved to a residential campus over 100 years and Temple’s done it over 15, so there’s going to be some growing pains,” Chief Financial Officer Ken Kaiser said.

As the desire to live off campus rapidly increased in the last decade and still increases today, private developers are seizing the opportunity to turn deteriorating, abandoned buildings into student housing, greatly increasing the original property value and price in the area.

“The temptation for living off campus is it’s a little bit cheaper, and there’s the freedom aspect,” Kaiser said.

Private businesses and landlords are not affiliated with Temple or officially a part of Temple student housing, despite names like “Templetown” and “Temple Nest.” Perhaps the most obvious growth in private development has occurred West of Main Campus.

“It’s not something that Temple controls,” Beverly Coleman, assistant vice president of community relations and economic development, said. “It’s something that we try to engage with people and respond to issues that arise.

Beech Interplex Inc. is a nonprofit organization committed to supporting community services, located on Cecil B. Moore Avenue, and provides housing for both students and members of the community. President Kenneth Scott said he supports commercial development as long as it is controlled.

Though Temple is not officially affiliated with private off-campus housing, the university hosts several off-campus housing fairs on campus.

“You’re holding housing fairs on campus trying to rent in the community without meeting with the community,” Scott said. “Saying, ‘This is Temple Town,’ or ‘This is Temple area.’ What are you talking about? This town has a name. This is Cecil B. Moore community. Because people are low income or uneducated, people say, ‘Oh, we can just walk all over them.”

While representatives from the community often stress the idea that Temple is displacing members of the community by allowing an influx of off-campus housing, Kaiser said over the past five years Temple administration has invested more than $250 million to “bring kids and keep them on campus.”

Kaiser said in keeping students on campus by building residence halls like the 27-story Morgan Hall and holding a partnership with Elmira Jeffries, Temple has attempted to ease tension with the community.

Anthony Monteiro, a professor who has been the subject of many demonstrations criticizing Temple administration for its community relations, called Morgan Hall a “monstrosity,”  while Kaiser said it’s a way to build “up,” rather than build “out.”


The year 1950 marked the beginning of the end for Black Bottom community, the neighborhood that surrounds the University of Pennsylvania, named for its racial makeup and socioeconomic spot at the “bottom” of West Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority deemed the area a redevelopment zone, giving Penn rights to the land legally under eminent domain.

Today, chain businesses like Starbucks, American Apparel, Cosi, Kiwi Yogurt and Taco Bell have infiltrated the area and stand alongside mom and pop businesses.

Student Body President Darin Bartholomew said business growth similar to University City would benefit Temple’s community.

“I don’t look at it as good or bad, I look at it as the market being able to work,” Bartholomew said. “Business owners [in University City] saw a demand and were able to have flourishing companies, so I don’t see anything wrong with that. If that’s the case at Temple, even with private developments, I think they should.”

The gentrification seemingly taking place in “Temple Town,” which is vastly attributed to private off-campus housing reality, does not compare with University City’s growth in commercial business.

While Bartholomew said he does not perceive a lack of demand for private businesses near Temple campuses, open retail space and McGonigle Hall has been left vacant for months.

“I’ve said for a while, that it’s important that Temple students be spending money in North Philadelphia,” Bartholomew said.

While prominent differences in retail are apparent between Temple and University City, many of the programs and organizations in place at the universities strive to reach similar goals in reaching out to the community.

The Sadie Turner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School, located in the 19104 zip code, is a K-8 school with a community-focused curriculum for students living in the surrounding neighborhood. While it is controlled by the School District of Philadelphia, it receives extra funding from Penn.

At Temple, the Good Neighbor Initiative reaches out to the community mainly to ease tension between student and community housing. Andrea Seiss, senior associate dean of students, co-chairs Good Neighbor Initiative, a program that stems from the university’s Good Neighbor Policy, which was started in March 2011 and deals with community service projects and raising awareness to avoid off-campus housing conflicts.

“Complaints we were getting with the community had to do a lot with trash distribution and stuff like late-night partying noise, public urination, destroying property,” Seiss said.

The Office of Community Relations provides direct services to Temple’s neighbors such as educational courses and job-training and placement programs. In addition, the office aims to connect Temple to volunteer opportunities, outreach programs and partnerships, provides direct services to Temple’s neighbors and occasionally partners with the Good Neighbor Initiative.

Coleman said that her office is typically the first point of contact between the university and the community.

When Temple took a community service inventory in the 2011-12 fiscal year, administration attempted to gather reports of how much money was given to community commitments. Though they found it to be roughly $4.32 million, Coleman said this was “extremely underreported,” because only eight of the 17 schools and colleges participated in the survey.

“When we budget, we budget at a higher level,” Kaiser said. “There’s literally hundreds and hundreds of lines in the budget, and there isn’t one that says community service because community service could be anything. It could be just volunteering.”

Ken Lawrence, senior vice president for government, community and public affairs, said the lack of centralization in budgeting for community involvement is an issue.

“One of the things we collectively need to do a better job of is put one number on community initiatives,” Lawrence said. “We’ve been trying to figure out a better way to capture everything that Temple does.”

Professor of geography and urban studies Roman Cybriwsky said the Office of Community Relations has implemented programs that could help the neighborhood, but he believes that the lack of involvement and awareness is problematic.

“There is this office of community relations, but they keep what they do away from us,” Cybriwsky said. “I think Temple has the opportunity to be really creative and try to make it a win-win for the neighborhood and the needs of the university community, too.”


Closer to Main Campus on Cecil B. Moore Avenue, President Kenneth Scott of Beech Interplex, Inc. said that Temple has improved its awareness to community voices.

“We disagree and we disagree loudly,” Scott said. “We go to the board meetings and we let them know what we think. It’s gotten better. The city has really slowed down in turning over public property to private developing.”

City Council President Darrell Clarke, whose Fifth District encompasses much of Main Campus and the western areas where students live, has had a varied relationship with Temple during his years in City Hall. In 2011, Clarke sponsored a bill that would prevent property owners from renting to full-time students within much of the area currently considered to make up Temple Town. However, Clarke also supported the development of the Avenue North retail and entertainment complex, which was constructed along Broad Street as part of Temple’s 20/20 plan.

Clarke supported PACENET, a property tax deferral program that provides financial protection to long-time community residents. In addition, he attempted to pass a bill to create to North Central Improvement District, which would have private developers and Temple pay the city to clean blighted neighborhoods around Main Campus. Clarke’s office did not return requests for comment.

Cybriwsky said that whether Temple is giving property to private developers or developing Main Campus itself, change is inevitable in an urban setting.

“We have radical change all the time,” Cybriwsky said. “And what we have lost to change is not just the neighborhood and the poor, but also glorious architecture and so on. Because business runs things. And change is normal.”

Emily Rolen and Claire Sasko can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. The last line really sums the whole thing up, throughout history cities and neighborhoods have risen and fallen. Rich neighborhoods become poor and poor become rich, it all depends on where people want to live.

    It’s also worth noting that the population in this neighborhood has increased more 100% since the 2000 but is still below the population peak in 1950. The black population across lower north Philadelphia has decreased about 30% since the 2000 census as well and this does not vary much between districts that have and have not experience gentrification.

    The truth is that as people can afford to, they leave for neighborhoods with better schools and lower crime.

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