Building it Better Together: Changing neighborhoods and the impact of gentrification

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- We are Building It Better Together once again and this time our focus is on the changing face of neighborhoods.

From Philadelphia to the surrounding suburbs, development and redevelopment are bringing with them wholesale change. And while much of that is good, there is another side to this sword that has many communities grappling with its effects.

The word gentrification is one of those that hits different people in very different ways. For some, it's a necessary driver of modernization, taking aging neighborhoods and making them new, vibrant and desirable. For others, it's a reckless eraser of communities and culture.

Action News recently attended a community meeting of residents in South Philadelphia. They were hearing from a builder about his proposed plans for a new condo project.

Longtime residents showed up to voice their concerns some of them seeking to shut it down before a single shovel hits a square inch of dirt.

The developer, Ori Fiebush, knows the drill well. His company has built dozens of buildings - just like this proposed project - in neighborhoods where, until he arrived, little else looked anything like it. He is, some say, the face of gentrification in Philadelphia both for better and worse.

TELL US! What are the issues you're experiencing with gentrification in the Philadelphia region?

"I'm certainly sensitive to some of the feedback that's been shared," said Fiebush. "But very much believe that the good outweighs the bad."

And therein lies the balancing act of a city in the midst of a redevelopment boom.

In 2018, more new housing units were built in Philadelphia than in any other year since the city began keeping data, nearly 3,000 in greater Center City alone.

And since 2010 the Center City District says more than 70 percent of all new construction has catered to renters.

But the boom isn't broad. Citywide, in the last decade, home values have gone up just nine percent, below the national average.

But look at some pockets of development: in the quickly changing Fishtown neighborhood, prices have climbed 70 percent in the last ten years. In Brewerytown, prices are up 130 percent.

Pricing data courtesy

Soaring values and rising rent lead to a real conundrum.

"Gentrification is a gift and a curse, is the short way to say it," said James Wright of the People's Emergency Center.

That center is a group that closely tracks home sales and rental rates mostly for the negative effects they bring.

"Your home starts to look less and less like your home, starts to look more and more like someone else's home. And so that erodes your sense of ownership, your sense of community," he said.

Some then choose to leave. Others, financially, are forced to move.

And experts say all the trends suggest the gentrification train has only just left the station.

"All these price pressures you're talking about are only going to be getting worse in the near future," said Jeff Tucker a economist.
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