We attended the Social Entrepreneurship Conference on Wednesday, April 11. It was hosted by Temple’s Fox School of Business, entitled “Investing in Urban Communities: Balancing Growth & Inclusion.”
Event advertisements encouraged participants to “join a distinguished panel for an interactive session.”
What we observed, however, was a country club atmosphere where developers and academicians from Penn and Temple felt comfortable mocking and insulting the poor, African Americans, activists and community sensibilities. Then, they cancelled the question-and-answer session. In the end, this “interactive” session turned out to be little more than a self-congratulatory performance, where nothing, save for an unintended clarion call, was accomplished.
Temple’s contributions to eminent domain abuse in North Philadelphia, notably, the growth of student housing at the expense of long-time poverty-stricken neighbors and faculty participation as consultants to City Hall, large developers and law firms are well-known tragedies.
What was so stark about the conference was the naked arrogance of the anti-community participants. The cozy associations between faculty and developers was laid bare and proved both disquieting and enlightening.
Developer John Westrum, revered by the pro-gentrification cabal, offered “I don’t want to hear anything more about gentrification. I prefer to use the term unslumming.”
Surely the people of Brewerytown, where Westrum has built unwanted luxury homes, have their problems. But, they don’t believe they live in a slum. Perhaps Westrum’s suburban background blinds him to the difference between a functioning, courageous African-American community and a vile, base slum.
Jeremy Nowak, a Wharton professor who runs the Reinvestment Fund, excitedly told the audience that “those of you who are afraid of rampant gentrification can relax. The city is experiencing a net increase in poor, so you don’t have to worry.”
Insensitivity and flippancy of his remarks aside, they reveal poor research and reasoning. In fact, the newly added poor are not moving to the neighborhoods being gentrified. Those areas are now priced out of their reach. Gentrification is proceeding precisely because Nowak’s friends, like Westrum, continue to build market-rate housing in poor communities and a corrupt city government will go so far as to change the zoning code to ensure that community members lose their right to contest development (see ordinances 060901 and 060902).
Fox Dean M. Moshe Porat later told us that no long-time residents or activists were invited to the panel, astonishingly, because “It was a scheduling issue.” He then reluctantly accepted our written rebuttal to Westrum’s comments.
This regrettable exhibition demonstrated how deeply Temple’s advocacy for urban displacement runs. Concerned students and faculty must organize if the aggression of the institution and many of its professors is to be thwarted.
African-American Business & Residents Association