McQuade: Promise zones for North Philadelphia

President Obama’s second phase of promise zones should include North Philly.

Since the beginning of the Great Recession, an increasing number of American neighborhoods have become suffused with the opposing characteristics of prosperity: fewer jobs, worsening safety and – unsurprisingly – less optimism about residents realizing their version of the “American dream.”

Some communities, such as North Philadelphia, were battling the effects of poverty decades before the 2008 recession, which only exacerbated the situation.

President Obama’s recent proposal to implement “promise zones” is a possible remedy. These promise zones would allow for a “partnering with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities and increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety,” according to the White House’s Jan. 8 press release.

The release states the program will include physical undertakings such as demolishing abandoned buildings, focusing on infrastructure developments and providing youth with leadership training through the sponsorship of educational and state initiatives.

Five areas were chosen from across the country to spearhead the program, representing the Northeast, West Coast, Midwest and the South.

While the neighborhood of Mantua, located in West Philadelphia, was chosen to represent the Northeast, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development claims it will designate 15 more communities over the next three years. North Philadelphia would seem like the perfect match.

According to recent American Community Survey estimates, multiple zip codes in North Philadelphia contain households in which more than 50 percent of the population makes a yearly salary lower than $14,999, which amounts to those households living at poverty level – per the 2013 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which considers a family of three impoverished at $19,530 per year.

You still might be asking: but why North Philly?

Rewind to last spring, when students, parents and educators alike mourned the closings of 23 Philadelphia schools. Of those schools closed, more than half were located in North Philadelphia. Now, a paltry amount remains.

One of the core components of promise zones is the reliance and cooperation of the local communities, including their businesses and organizations.

It seems that Temple is in a unique situation, as it already facilitates communications between students and the local population.

If North Philly were to be designated as a promise zone, some of the many jobs Temple could perform are as simple as job fairs or training seminars.

The unwritten promise, after all, was that with perseverance, a positive attitude and a supportive network, better days were ahead. Making it a promise zone has the ability to start a new promise – one in which they aren’t abandoned.

Romsin McQuade can be reached at

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