Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ground Zero: Point Breeze

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson recently blocked the sale of two lots to Point Breeze developer, Ori Feibush. Why? Well, Johnson believes this land should be reserved for Council President, Darrell Clarke's still-hypothetical affordable housing plan.

As Philadelphia's neighborhoods are experiencing a rebirth from Pennsport to Woodland Avenue, Point Breeze has become the battleground between the city's new homebuyers and longtime, low income residents. But with developers and City Council behind the joysticks, neither set of tenants have control of the game.

City Council has blocked tax hikes for longtime residents in an alleged effort to maintain diversity in revitalized neighborhoods. But when you consider the reality in places like Point Breeze, Council's efforts emerge as a less altruistic means to grab votes. In many of these neighborhoods, longtime residents are also longtime renters. Granting a tax reprieve on behalf of property owners gives slumlords a break, slumlords who will hike up rent to match the market of the improving neighborhoods.

Of course these are details that City Council understands, but you get votes by blaming "evil developers," not with the truth.

Things are even more complicated at Ground Zero, where Ori Feibush has announced plans to run against Johnson for City Council. Likely frustrated with his own development efforts in Point Breeze, Feibush wants to reform the corruption from within.

But eyeing a Council seat to aid personal profit wafts with its own kind of stink, one that could someday tip Philadelphia's economic diversity in favor of high end developers, a mistake made by the nation's more "successful" cities.

Cities like San Francisco and New York are dealing with the fallout of sending all but the region's wealthiest to the suburbs and neighboring cities. Havens for tourists, stripped of their souls, many of the locals play in Oakland and Brooklyn.

In other cities like Washington, D.C., blanketed gentrification has caused violent hostility between longtime residents and those new to neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan. We've seen this in Point Breeze and Northern Liberties. If history is any indication, it will only increase as developers and City Council continue to pit residents against one another for personal gain.

Perhaps these are the growing pains of any city that's ever been reborn, a path that Philadelphia was inevitably going to find. Of course following in the footsteps of San Francisco or Washington may seem like a long road given the sheer size of Philadelphia, but if City Council were ever to find itself in favor of profitable developers, the worst parts of the city wouldn't have to improve for developers to have control. They'd just need easy access to the land.

If City Council was run by the Feibushes of the city instead of the Johnson's, the city's pawns - its residents - would see the same city, just one hoarded by developers instead of City Hall.

Johnson and Clarke's bottom line may be votes, but maintaining the delicate balance of economic diversity should not be ignored in lieu of high end revitalization. Philadelphia is a big city, one with plenty of room for all walks of life. Unfortunately the game being played by those running the city - both from within City Hall and outside - is only hurting our streets and turning neighbors against one another.

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