PlanPhilly

We asked Philly to tell us what gentrification feels like. Here's what we heard.

Over the past five days, we've explored gentrification in Philadelphia — talking to people about their experiences as new neighbors, higher rents, and different businesses move into the city. As reporters Jake Blumgart and Jim Saksa wrote in the first article of the series, gentrification is a loaded term. It means something different to everyone and affects all of us differently, too. From neighborhoods across the city, and even across the river, people have shared with us, and each other, their reflections and questions about climbing incomes and other demographic shifts occurring in their communities. Here are some of the comments that made us stop and consider a new perspective. 

In response to WHYY News' Annette John-Hall's article on ‘gentrification for black people by black people’ in East Germantown, Sandy Smith aka @MarketStEl shared that “gentrification on our terms” is only part of the narrative. 

And among those who stayed, some are taking an active role in ensuring that no one gets left behind as the neighborhood grows. 

Other people called in to share their sometimes pained memories of neighbors and institutions lost. They asked honest questions about how to move forward in an uncharted landscape.

Lisa, who grew up in Mayfair, shared that in her neighborhood changed, but it's not a bad thing: "Now it’s not all white anymore. Which is fine. People work hard, that’s what matters." 

Leslie, who called from across the river over in Audubon, New Jersey, wasn’t as optimistic. She couldn’t shake the parallels between the changes in Philadelphia and what’s happening in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where she grew up in a predominantly black and Puerto Rican neighborhood. All of my memories are being erased by this,” Leslie shared tearfully. “And all of the people that I knew were forced to move to who knows where…I saw it happen in my old neighborhood, and I cry." 

Rebecca, who is currently looking to buy a home with her husband in South Philadelphia, wants to be mindful of their impact in a new neighborhood, especially one experiencing rapid demographic shifts. However, how to mitigate the legacy of gentrification, while finding an affordable home with their double-artist income, is unclear. “We’re kind of puzzled as to how do we become part of the community, without hurting that community…without contributing to rising property taxes,” Rebcca said. “How do we join a community like that as white allies as opposed to as predators?”

Harold Burnett didn't even need complete sentences to make his point. He shared a few signifiers that, to him, embody gentrification.

In Germantown, "conscious block captain" Bernie Lambert, aka @DaUrbanNerd, talked about change and rebirth through preservation and rehab.

For Jamir Wilson, aka @JimRW, the "surprising truth behind the racial dynamics" was not so surprising at all.

Over in Point Breeze, longtime resident @RufusDeck pointed out that not all of the folks snapping up high-end rowhomes in Point Breeze are newcomers. Why not challenge a "divisive" narrative and talk to more neighbors?

Meanwhile Lisa Nwanko, whose grandparents both hail from Point Breeze, shared yet another experience one generation prior. Her grandparents said that 70 years ago, only affluent Black people lived on Christian Street from river to river.

Indeed, there is resilience in homeownership. @RufusDeck highlighted a resource that helps keep that possible, the city's Longtime Owner Occupants Program (LOOP), a real estate tax discount initiave for homeowners who have lived in their homes for 10 years or more, experienced a significant increase in their property assessment from one year to the next, and meet income eligibility requirements.

Veteran lawyer Amy Laura Cahn, known for her decades of work promoting and defending urban farms, community gardens, and open spaces, suggested that we look at public or community gardens at risk as a metric for changing neighborhoods. 

Cahn listed just a few gardens at risk or lost due to development, including St. Bernard Community Garden in Cedar Park, which narrowly evaded the hands of developers at sheriff’s sale in 2016.

    • Trevor McElroy, who has been gardening at St. Bernard Community Garden for more than two years, is one of the members working to save the garden.
      Trevor McElroy, who has been gardening at St. Bernard Community Garden for more than two years, is one of the members working to save the garden.
    • Even in its dormant, winter state, the St. Bernard plot is a crowded community garden.
      Even in its dormant, winter state, the St. Bernard plot is a crowded community garden.
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Cahn also recognizes the multiple roles urban gardens can play in communities, cautioning that urban agriculture could also be a force of gentrification. 

Clearly, there is a lot to consider. Keep giving us your thoughts on social media using  #WHYYGentrified.

 

About the author

Diana Lu, Community Engagement Editor

Diana runs PlanPhilly’s community outreach and engagement online and in real life. She has spent more than ten years in the non-profit and public sectors working on urban development issues including environmental justice, design-based manufacturing, and community and economic development.  Prior to joining PlanPhilly, Diana worked as the Director of Partnerships and Outreach for 10,000 Small Businesses, a public-private initiative focused strengthening local businesses through revenue generation and local job creation.  Follow Diana on instagram @dianaluwho and email her at dlu@whyy.org.



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