As the bright lights of the local and national media have converged on City Hall in the past month, their focus has shifted away from the value of what John Street has or has not accomplished as mayor. Temple Issues Forum (TIF) did their part to address that.
Last Thursday, about 150 students attended a TIF-sponsored discussion on the mayor’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI).
“Our goal at TIF is to bring different student groups together and to inform advocacy,” said Herbert W. Simons, a professor of Strategic and Organizational Communication at Temple and a co-organizer of the event. “NTI is important and would be important whether there was an election or not.”
The Initiative is a $295 million plan enacted by Mayor Street to demolish and clean-up vacant properties, remove abandoned cars, and provide loans for home repairs. The plan is subsidized by bonds with help from local businesses.
The issue of the forum could have led to a heated debate because of the criticism this plan has encountered since its original inception, but it played out to be very mild and respectful. Allen Hornblum, a Temple professor of Geography and Urban Studies, moderated the discussion.
“The supporters of the mayor’s plan got off light today because there are elements in this city that have strong opposition,” Hornblum said. He said he believed there are people with much more resistance to NTI and they were not well represented at the forum.
The discussion was broken up as three speakers gave different perspectives on the Initiative.
Catherine Califano, the Deputy Secretary of the Philadelphia Office of Housing and Neighborhood preservation, began the presentations. She supported NTI and its components and gave statistics on the number of people losing their homes through the Initiative, which is a major concern of critics.
“NTI sets aside units so that the people who are being displaced will have the first chance to buy,” Califano said. She also pointed out 85 percent of the houses being demolished are vacant. The remaining 15 percent are only demolished when it is completely necessary for redevelopment.
The next presenter was Robert M. Rosenthal, the Vice-President of Business Development for Westrum Development Co. Rosenthal stated that economic and social progress could be made in Philadelphia by attempting to draw the middle class back to the city.
“The loss of the middle class brings crime issues and problems with education to this city,” Rosenthal said. He stated his company’s mission was to provide new housing in the city that had comparable rates to similar houses in the suburbs. Rosenthal emphasized that NTI was going to take patience from all parties if it was to be successful. He also said it will take 10 years for the plan to work.
The forum’s final presenter was Ann Shlay from Temple’s Center for Public Policy. Shlay has recently co-authored a study entitled “Research for Democracy” which detailed components of the Initiative.
“We feel that policy comes out of government but it belongs to the people,” Shlay said. “Therefore policy that comes out of government should be well-informed by the citizens.”
Shlay’s study played a major role in the mayor eventually including house renovations in the plan. Funds were not allocated for this in the original proposition.
Ryan Bowers was one of the students who found the forum to be helpful.
“When students hear innovative thoughts it can spur them to action,” Bowers said. “It’s great because we as students are looking for ways to be involved in the community.”
Jason Boll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.