Friday, December 08, 2006

The Plague Threatening Philly's Revival

It's becoming increasingly difficult to talk about Philadelphia's urban design challenges without also talking about the plague of gun violence. Never was it more true than this week.

This should have been a week to celebrate the northward expansion of Center City's development success, to the corner of Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. The Pearl Theater, a seven-screen movie house that is part of the jaunty, cobalt blue, retail complex designed by Erdy McHenry Architects for developer Bart Blatstein's Tower Investments, held its red-carpet opening on Monday night. This wasn't just another opening of another multiplex: After a dry spell of 30 years, the Pearl marked the return of first-run movies to the neighborhood around Temple University. The series of special, opening events was supposed to be a coming-out party for a newly invigorated, newly stable North Philadelphia.

But, as the Inquirer recounts today, the party was marred by an ugly teenage gun battle outside the theater, followed by a fight among departing patrons. That kind of casual gun use and teenage bravado would be chilling in any circumstances. But it's even worse when it threatens to undermine the huge effort and $100 million investment that went into the
Avenue North development, which also includes a 1,200-student dormitory. It's especially upsetting for anyone who remembers how teenage violence helped doom the Chestnut Street movie theaters in the 1980s.

And yet Philadelphia is a different, more resilient, place today than it was 20 years ago, when theaters were closing and residents fleeing to the 'burbs. Not only do more people live in Center City and the surrounding neighborhoods than back then, but there is a sense that today's residents choose to live in the city because that's the kind of life they want. The assaults on peace and civility are reason to be angry, but not necessarily reason to abandon ship. There's a "Take Back the Streets" feeling in the response that followed the incident. Not only did Mayor Street and other city leaders offer extra police protection, they vowed to patronize the theater with their families as a means of driving out the hooligans. One small conversation I overheard on the northbound No. 7 bus, which runs up 22nd Street, during Thursday's morning rush hour might provide a little perspective: Two acquaintances, who have apparently lived south of Washington Avenue for quite awhile, were talking about the amazing spike in home prices in their neighborhood.

"They're getting $250,000 for houses on my block," says the first, a man carrying a leather briefcase.

"Mine too," the second, a woman, answers. "Have you thought about selling yours?"

"No. I really, really like my house," the man responds. "And it's a good neighborhood. You know, we don't have too much shooting."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in an area where there isn't too much shooting either. But I have only lived here for three years. We do hear guns going off at night, sirens, even had someone firebomb a house last month. Firebomb.

We live in the south of south are near the naval home.

I would say that the violence won,t make me move, but the corruption and incompetent leadership could.

I think the violence will be lessenedbefor the leadership problems are. Even though it will be harder to do.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"we don't have too much shooting"

A ringing endoresment, definitely something I look for when buying a homeor selecting a neighborhood!

12:39 PM  
Anonymous gooser said...

The Avenue North incident was as predictable as the day is long. If anyone was surprised by that shooting they are in complete denial,living in a fantasyland.

The real puzzle is how in the world has fabulous center city, in particular Walnut to South, been able to survive in this godforsaken city. Thats nothing short of a miracle considering the mayhem surrounding it.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

seriously, center sity is an oasis in a wasteland.

I DOn't get this city.

There is a square mile of nice. Surrounded by violent slums on all sides. even the square mile of nice has a run down core (market east).

This is vibrance?

Maybe compared to what once was. When even that square mile was empty....

2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

has the last poster ever ventured outside of center city. would they consider northern liberites, bella vista, university city, fairmount, etc. to be violent slums?

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That person is what you call - AN IDIOT

3:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only answer to this is to lower business and wage taxes to bring good jobs back from the suburbs. Good jobs = Good people who don't shoot eachother.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

What is wrong with you people? This is a GREAT CITY!!! Yeah we an out of control murder rate at the moment. But Center City is NOT AN OASIS!!! Get your head out of your asses and WAKE UP!! Im tired of hearing this bull about the city!!!

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Center City is not the only vibrant and safe section of Philly, dumb-dumbs. In addition to the neighborhoods mentioned previously, there's Manayunk, Chestnut Hill, Fishtown and SWCC is getting better daily.

Get real.

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny, Ingra, that you put a sweet twist at the end of your post about some south Philly folk discussing their rising home values, when what this story is really about is how "Philly's Revival" is being impeded by these same people.

For some, I hope you realize, this so-called revival is the plague.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks the revival is the plague is out of their mind. You enjoy living lawlessly with drug dealers operating out of a doorless row home less than five block due north of the inquirer building? You enjoy going to movie theaters where teens get shot and a night at the movies turns into riots? You need to move to Iraq. At least John Street is doing his best to fight the revival...

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No complaints about improving the safety of the city, my friend. As a young lad growing up in Philly I was the victim of numerous random acts of violence, none of which were much fun. But I think there is a difference between crime eradication and gentrification. It seems, however, that policy makers at numerous levels would rather let the latter occur unrestrained than to address the more serious socioeconomic issues.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm tired of hearing the old "Center City is an oasis among crap" argument. I live in the Spruce Hill section of West Philly. I moved there two years ago. It's an outstanding neighborhood. It's clean and safe. The value of my home, like many others, has skyrocketed.

This city is clearly on the upswing. Gun violence is definitely a problem, but at least the civic leaders are focusing on it, instead of shrugging it off as they have done for 30 years.

And to answer the one poster about how Center City can be so nice and safe despite the "mayhem" surrounding it, it's a statistical fact that 80% of violent crime centers around the drug trade. More specifically, 82% of murder victims in Philadelphia had criminal records. Most of the "mayhem" is in regards to criminals killing criminals in the drug industry. Their "business" is too profitable and high-return to focus on risking a trip in Center City to mug some yuppie for a lousy $100.

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most people think of Spruce Hill as an extension of Center City just like Northern Liberties, Bella vista etc.

And of course everyone who takes the time to read Inga's blog knows about Chestnut Hill and Manayunk being great neighborhoods. That being said, in those terms, none of the detractors are wrong in saying Center City is surrounded by chaos and garbage neighborhoods. In every direction surrounding Center City you inevitably hit a deep sustained pocket of poverty and violence.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In every direction surrounding Center City you inevitably hit a deep sustained pocket of poverty and violence."

This statement can be made about any city in the country.

And Spruce Hill is NOT an extension of Center City. It doesn't even border it.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"this statement can be made about any city in the country"

This is the mantra that many in Philadelphia keep repeating. Somehow trying to make it all okay. It is not true about every other city in the country that you can walk, in afternoon, from ghetto (point breeze) to the most expensive area in the city (rittenhouse) and keep going straight into another ghetto in north philly. Or if you like we can go east west from mantua/west philly through U city through the square mile of nice and into (another state and a whoel separate problem, but still true) camden.

The fact is that there are very few cities that you can do that. It means that the nice area is relatively small and surrounded by, as yet ungentrified, run down ghettos with high crime.
San Fransisco, San Diego, Boston, Chicago etc all have a bad neighborhood or two but they are small relative to the nice areas. Philadelphia's ghettos are LARGER than the built up areas.

I am not condeming Philly. But lets have an honest discussion without you guys freaking out.

This city still has serious issues.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

San Diego and San Francisco are poor examples. Most of the poor live outside the city limits. Sure, San Francisco has many nice parts. But walk to South San Francisco or Oakland. What a disaster! With the exception of walking north along the Gold Coast, you'll find trouble in Chicago in any direction. Stand outside the United Center at night to find out.

There are plenty of cities where you'll walk and it will change from nice to ghetto to nice to ghetto. Ever been to LA?

Washington DC, Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, St Louis, and New Orleans all have a higher proportion of poverty and blight than Philly.

And I also like how any part of the city that's nice is just classified as an "extension of Center City". Typical Negadelphia. What about 75% of Northeast Philly? Chestnut Hill? Manayunk? Packer Park? Overbrook Farms?

The city still has progress to be made, but it will never do it as long as we keep defining ourselves by what is going in North Philly versus Center City or South Philly or any another part of the city that's undergoing positive change.

The Inquirer doesn't focus on anything anymore other than crime reporting or some other criticism of the city. Hell, even the architecture critic has become a crime reporter. Then they wonder why subcription rates are plummeting. Surbanites could care less and city dwellers are sick of hearing the same rehash.

Focus on something new and original for once. Stop pretending that gun violence is news in this city and hasn't been out-of-control for the last 30 years.

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a great point about how a city "defines" or "sees" itself. I temporarily lived in DC for a few years. For many of you who don't know, DC has almost twice the violent crime compared to Philly. Yet, somehow the city manages to discuss and focus on other things than the crime rate. Judging by the amount of media coverage alone, you would think Philly was the more dangerous city. City residents in DC are proud of their city and are quite capable of talking about the positives. The local media doesn't make every attempt to trash the city.

I'm not saying we should adopt a pollyanna outlook on things. One might argue that apathy is a major factor in DC's high crime rate. I just think we need to make a desicion. Either we tackle the issue head on or we write it off as a hopeless cause and move on and focus on sections of the city with real potential. We can't stay in this state of constant fear mongering and negativity and allow ourselves to be defined by it.

6:27 PM  
Anonymous Sheth said...

Murder is tragic but still relatively unusual in Philly. It needs to be addessed but wont be until Street and JOhnson are retired and we get leadership that is willing to adopt successful practices from other cities. Philly has such overwhelming blight and crime due to massive job losses and population losses. it's really that simple. All the cities (other than NYC) that people love to praise as being superior to Philly where never as economically powerful as Philly and thus weren't as adversely affected by the loss of manufacturing in this country. There is a reason it was called the Workshop of the World. Never heard San Fran or Boston called that. Philly has nearly lost more people than Baltimore has currently and it still had 1.5 million people. Like they say, the bigger you are the harder you fall and that is certainly the case with Philadelphia in the post industrial age.

BTW, the worst neighborhoods surround center city because those are the areas that were built for industrial workers and thus were depopulated when all the jobs left. Although the averag center city or suburban dweller is too scared to check out the rest of the city, there are plenty of nice neighborhoods left. And no, I'm not just talking about the gentrified parts like NoLibs or Fairmount. I'm talking Overbrook, Wynnefiled, Mt Airy, East Oak Lane, Roxborough, etc. Whle Philly has vast ghettos, it's so much larger than DC or San Fran that overall Philly still probably has more nice parts (by area) than either city. If we count the majority of the NE as stable, I would say 60%-70% of the city is at least decent. REmember that NE Philly is the largest part of the city.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the writer of many of the critisism above.

I will concede that many good points have been made arguing against me.

I am happy to see that they were made without resorting to personal attacks. This is good dialogue.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Now Philadelphia just needs to do more to leave the industrial era behind and bring in a new era of biotechnology, finance, media, intellectual property, education, and skilled/automated manufacturing. Also, anyone else notice this word verification process getting really annoying?

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have also niticed that about the word verification process.

I would also like to point out the inportance of the next mayor in getting all the things done we are talking about. I hope everyone plans to vote!

7:10 AM  
Anonymous Fante said...

"The Inquirer doesn't focus on anything anymore other than crime reporting or some other criticism of the city. Hell, even the architecture critic has become a crime reporter. Then they wonder why subcription rates are plummeting. Surbanites could care less and city dwellers are sick of hearing the same rehash.

Focus on something new and original for once. Stop pretending that gun violence is news in this city and hasn't been out-of-control for the last 30 years."

I couldn't agree more. I'll start regularly buying the papers in this city again when they do a better job of accurately portraying the city. And when the papers depict this city as an interesting place to live and visit.

There are lots of reasons for this failure of newspapers to accurately portray this city, but one of them is that there too many city reporters who live in suburbs. They only view the city from inside the PNI building.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a young professional considering moving to Philly for a job, I'm put off by the negative way the city is written about on the front page of the Inquirer on-line. Almost everyday many of the most prominent articles on the site involve violence. Though I'm not saying crime shouldn't be reported, if I didn't know better, as an out of towner I'd think Philly was crime capital of the world. The Inquirer may be scaring away the type of people who could do the most good for Philly.

8:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Philadelphia's residential/infrastructure problem is because it was so prosperous in the 19th century. Philadelphia's manufacturing base made it the premier city to give rise to the middle class (individual row houses and summer trips on the train to Atlantic City). Unfortunately, 19th Century row houses were built to only last so long. The middle class moved to the suburbs after the war and the underclass moved up from the south.

7:17 AM  
Anonymous keith chennault said...

I think you guys are naive. Just because someone builds a million dollar building in a depressed nighborhood does't signal a change in the people of that neighborhood. If that is the solution quick build a billion dollar building in Iraq and get our troops home.

THere is still the story of the Haves, have nots , and don't really cares.

So because the haves build a building in the have nots neighborhod does not mean the have nots and don't realy cares are going to conform to the haves way of life.
To follow this thinking, one would have to believe that the 16 year old girl bombarded by sex on TV and bill boards paid by other million and billion dollar companies, will not have sex because some one invested a million dollars to build a building in her neighborhood. Or, maybe a drug dealer sees a seller that owwes him money and or product will not shoot the seller because he is in close proximity to the million dollar structure.

As long as the money is spent to invest in structures only and not people, the same results will occur.

North Philly or NORF as it affectionately called by it's true residents, will continue to have drug dealing, teen sex, drug users, gun voilence, corner stores selling loosie cigarettes, prostitution (those on the corner and those living respectfully by day trying to make ends meet and by night sleeping with area residents to keep the lights on)
speakeasies, rooming houses, and other negative aspects of living in an impoverished and income depleted neighborhood.

But they can rest assure now, and look for their miracle and improve the neighborhood morals, and social standing, because now they are not just poor, uneducateded, unemployed, and hopeless, now they can maintain all of the above, but with the multi million dollar investment right in their own neighborhood to view and despise. Thinking how could a million dollars improve my house, My block, my life.. BUt hank god those Temple students got it for their campus...
Yeah Right

WOW, that should do it.
keith chennault
Streets Are Talking

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just want someone to save the Willis Hale stretch of buildings on N. 17th before they start falling down. The city owns a bunch of them -- maybe they are hoping the movie theatre and other development will put some cash in their pockets if they go to the meantime, the buildings sit with boards in the windows and holes in the roof...

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because of the shooting phenomenom that's been steadfastly on the rise here in Philadelphia, by rights it should be an allowable premise for deeply discounting real estate prices wherever it occurs, rather than treating the two as if they have nothing to do with one another. If someone spends a fortune for a place to live in Northern Liberties, Fishtown or wherever, only for it to come out that it's a high crime area, the one spending the fortune should get some of their money back because of this, as clearly they were overcharged. It's known as "consumer protection against defective goods." And by enforcing this consumer protection law (or what needs to be law if it isn't already) one of two positive things will happen: Either real estate prices will return back down to realistic levels, or the shooting trend will reverse. Maybe we can persuade the shooters to turn their guns on the real estate price gougers to make the givebacks they need to, turning a liability into an asset as it were, at least till we can get some consumer protection back in place.

2:21 AM  

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