PHILADELPHIA – A report from the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania details the ways reclamation and redevelopment of vacant property have improved residents’ quality of life in eastern North Philadelphia. The report, “Neighborhood Stabilization and Safety in East North Philadelphia,” highlights how comprehensive strategic investment by local community developers and public agencies correlates with improvements in safety, rising incomes and an attraction of new working households.
Relying on Penn’s Cartographic Modeling Lab crime data and information from U.S. census and demographic projections by mapping software ESRI and by PolicyMap, the Fels publication provides demographic indicators associated with the ongoing transformation in the area studied.
Written by Fels Research Associate Christopher Kingsley under the supervision of Fels Senior Consultant John Kromer, the report is the third in the Neighborhood of Opportunities project, funded by the William Penn Foundation.
The new report builds on two companion reports issued by Fels in September 2010 and July 2008 studying the transformation of vacant lots and redevelopment in the blocks east of Temple University and in neighborhoods in Southwest Philadelphia.
The most recent findings, which focused primarily on the area in eastern North Philadelphia, suggest there are dramatic benefits to investing in neighborhoods.
§ Between 1998 and 2007 serious crimes declined an average of 5.7% per year, a more rapid decline than in the Philadelphia area at large.
§ After experiencing a 20% drop in population between 1989 and 1999, the neighborhood experienced less than a 1% decrease between 1999 and 2009. Some analysts think that the incoming census data will actually show population growth.
§ The area has become an inviting neighborhood for middle-class families, attracting about 42 middle-class workers per year between 2002 and 2008.
§ Households in the area are 4.7% wealthier than they were a decade ago.
§ Residents are better educated; during the last decade, high school graduates increased from 44 to 51.2%. This outpaced the proportional amount of diploma holders living in Philadelphia
“There is no question that this neighborhood is on the sharp rebound, and the strategic planning and investments, primarily led by local community corporation Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, or APM, have had a tremendous impact,” Kingsley said.
This reinvestment has so far reinforced – rather than undermined – the area’s long-standing diversity.
Census projections estimate that the neighborhood’s ratio of Anglo-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanic residents has remained largely consistent through the previous decade.
“It is important to keep in mind that this neighborhood is still a relatively disadvantaged area compared to most other sections of Philadelphia,” Kromer said. “Physical development must be accompanied by human-capital development to help individuals achieve social mobility and nurture a more sustainable community.
Fels organized the Neighborhoods of Opportunity project to examine real-estate development and human-capital strategies in a portion of eastern North Philadelphia between 1998 and 2010.
Researchers envision the project fostering a broader conversation about government and community leaders roles in economically disinvested areas, while generating policy recommendations most likely to succeed. The project seeks to evoke cooperation between the private sector, government and non-profits to improve local communities by active participation and smart investment.