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.
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.
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.
The 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.