Testing The Gentrification Narrative At Temple University


Cherry and White rising | Photo: Bradley Maule

A Cherry and White expansion into the surrounding neighborhood has some long time residents up in arms | Photo: Bradley Maule

Temple University continues to transition from an earlier model, when a substantial portion of students commuted to class in into a residential university. University officials have been implementing plans to create a campus experience, spending hundreds of millions of dollars building dorms, research buildings, green space and public gathering areas, and, to the chagrin of nearby neighbors, on plans for a new football stadium on the northwestern edge of campus.

Temple’s enrollment boom contributes to the construction of on-campus dorms and private-market rental housing by real estate developers, largely to the west of campus. This off-campus expansion is partially responsible for the (albeit mostly sloppy) development of abandoned buildings and vacant lots on and around Cecil B. Moore Avenue, devastated by disinvestment, poverty, and the lasting effects of the Columbia Avenue Riot, 52 years ago.

As empty lots and shells give way to new construction decades later, the increase in rent and property taxes pushes out long-term residents.

Recently, however, some studies suggest an opposite effect, that long-term neighborhood dwellers are less likely to leave a gentrifying neighborhood than a non-gentrifying one, and that some of those who move out can actually capitalize on the move. The increase in property value isn’t the only concern with gentrification, which can also bring instability, the destruction of neighborhood traditions and rhythms, and the dilution of grass roots influence. Along the campus edge, gentrification often takes the form of overcrowding, poor construction, trash, and anti-social behavior.

Hoping to bring some insight to a neighborhood undergoing strong gentrification pressure, we wanted to determine what form, exactly, gentrification in Temple’s vicinity has taken, and how it has impacted long-term residents.

Studies that are sanguine about gentrification and displacement often argue that struggling, low income neighborhoods also lose residents too. This is certainly the case in Philadelphia, where residents have been abandoning deteriorating housing stock and the damaging consequences of living in concentrated poverty for decades now, even in the absence of gentrification pressures.

Is this the case in North Central Philadelphia? In order to find out, we have to calculate natural level out-migration not caused by rising rents and an encroaching student population in the subject area, “Temple’s Vicinity,” bounded by Broad Street to the east, 19th Street to the west, Jefferson Street to the south, and Susquehanna to the north.

To model this out-migration, we made a comparison to neighborhoods where long-term residents face the same burdens with those surrounding Temple’s campus vicinity. If you were to look at two maps of Philadelphia, one from 1875 and one from 1895, you can see that virtually all of Temple’s vicinity and the surrounding, similar neighborhoods were developed between those two decades.

The dark gray is 1875 development, the light gray is 1895 development. The difference between them being the development within those 20 years

The dark gray is 1875 development, the light gray is 1895 development. The difference between them being the development within those 20 years.

As you can see in the graphic above, these similar neighborhoods form a ring just beyond the urban core. These similar neighborhoods lost 19 percent of their traditional, African American population base between 2000 and 2014. Most of these residents have moved into areas with newer housing stock in Southwest and Northeast Philadelphia, while others have left the city altogether.

Alongside the actual age of the properties, the income required to maintain them is the other significant variable. In 2000, the median black household income in Temple’s vicinity was $16,480, within the bottom fourth quartile of census tracts in Philadelphia. Combined, all the census tracts in 2000 that housed Philadelphia’s bottom fourth quartile of black household income housed 288,841 black residents. By 2014, those same tracts housed 253,801 black residents, a decline of 12 percent. Some of these residents have moved into more middle-income black neighborhoods like Wynnefield and Overbrook, while others relocated into pockets of new poverty in the lower Northeast. Many left the city altogether.

This map displays median black household income across the region. Different colors represent different quantiles, with darkest green representing the highest-earning black households in the region, and lightest green representing the lower-earning

This map displays median black household income across the region. Different colors represent different quantiles, with darkest green representing the highest-earning black households in the region, and lightest green representing the lower-earning.

These figures suggest that a natural, long-term resident exodus from Temple’s vicinity would have been between 10 and 20 percent. Instead, Temple vicinity’s long-term resident population declined from 5,139 to 2,953, a significant decline of 42.5 percent. This suggests that there is something else at play here, namely, the suspected culprit of gentrification.

Within the study area, there are still variations in the extent of new development, which allows us to analyze variation in new construction since 2000 and then compare those areas’ pace of development to their loss of long-term residents. Below is a map of the area divided into block groups. There are two numbers in each block group. The first is the percentage decline of long-term residents since 2000. The second is the percentage growth, or decline, of housing units in the area since 2000.

TempleChartThe graphic above reveals a relatively strong correlation between an increase in housing units and a decline in long-term residents. Every census block group in the area lost long-term residents with the exception of one parcel, bounded by 19th to the west, 17th and 16th Street, to the east, Cecil B. Moore Avenue to the north and Jefferson Street to the south. This parcel lies within the ‘Cecil B. Moore Homeownership Zone’, a vast tract of new single-family housing constructed since 1997 with the help of an alphabet soup of public and private agencies and a large $23 million grant from HUD.

Another exception can be found in the blocks north of Diamond Street, which saw their total number of units remain stable or decline only slightly, as the rate of abandonment on these more secluded blocks has just about kept pace with new infill construction.

One particularly tricky parcel is the area between Oxford Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, 16th Street to Broad Street. Despite a huge gain in units, this parcel had only a modest, long-term resident decline. This anomaly can be easily explained since this parcel that contains the massive Edge complex, which, despite its imposing twelve stories, is entirely self-contained within its own city block. The only other major development in this area is Beech International Village, well-contained by the north end of the block between 16th Street and Sydenham Street and developed by a non-profit with grant money from the William Penn Foundation with a stipulation that displacement be limited.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, development more closely mimics old gentrification tropes: the senior citizen walled in by student housing, the demolished historic church replaced by characterless boxes, and so forth. Clearly, student housing is going to keep sprouting up around the neighborhood, but perhaps Temple could take some steps to encourage greater density in parcels where development does not affect established residents as much and then discourage development in parcels where the presence of students would be a constant disruption. Perhaps Temple’s Good Neighbor Initiative could function as both carrot and stick, rather than a voluntary series of underfunded programs and safety advisories. As the issue looms on a grand scale with Temple’s stadium proposal, university officials could put their Good Neighbors initiative into practice and not just promote a well meaning, but largely unimplemented theory.

About the author

David Hilbert is a product of Philadelphia and an avid mapper of its cartographic secrets. His approach to urban analysis is influenced in equal parts by Nate Silver and Beanie Sigel. When not mapping he is often found contemplating chlorophyll.

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  1. joseph m. ott, a.s.,b.a.,m.a.,c.c.h.

    great article on urban renewal

  2. Phillydelphian

    How are you measuring long-term residents? Where does that come from?

  3. “Combined, all the census tracts in 2000 that housed Philadelphia’s bottom fourth quartile of black household income housed 288,841 black residents. By 2014, those same tracts housed 253,801 black residents, a decline of 12 percent”

    How is a black person moving from North Philadelphia to South Philadelphia being considered a long term resident of a neighborhood? That makes no sense.

  4. I have to respond.

    First, Temple came into our neighborhoods under the banner of WE ARE HERE TO HELP. But they had a secret unwritten contract with the city, which prevented any black person from buying a house in the area. Next, a hidden deploy, the pha kicked out and relocated mostly every property they owned and then they sold it to investors and temple.
    Those neighborhoods had a close knit relationship. Crime existed, but not as it has been advertised and displayed.
    This was a deploy, to make something look right, that has been being done wrong.
    Your opinion comes from those how have plotted, stole and burned people out their houses literally.
    See…today, its the blacks, tomorrow it will be who ever else in the way of the plans. People forget, they trying to make philly like baby Vegas…So from the water in…everything and everyone is in play.
    They cut off our funds to out community about 25 years ago. Its not that we didn’t have people…we kept hearing…no money…but us blacks got to see everyone else get money? They’ve done closed most our schools, so the kids hath to get up extra early to take a long ride to school.

    This article is told from the point of a lie. We were very, close.
    It’s being presented like we didn’t Carr or abandoned our communities, which is not what happen.
    Question…. how we told people ran with some checks, and nobody went to jail, like there wasn’t a name on those checks? Its amazing, how there are never any charges. Its amazing how when people didn’t want to sell, they house seem to always catch on fire?

    So. They city departments, broke our neighborhoods up.
    Why wouldn’t they give abandon houses to people looking to buy a house.

    • Leonard Eisenstein

      because only Yuppies, guppies, buppies, and huppies should live in the New & Improved Temple University Zone…….the rest can move up to Broad & Allegheny

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