Monday, March 12, 2018

Gentrification: From slums to sleek towers in Philly

Society Hill view from Society  Hill  Tower  Photo by, Kimberly Payton  WHYY

Jake Blumgart and Jim Saksa report for WHYY News:

Harry Schwartz, 84, remembers when his neighborhood, Society Hill, was one of the poorest parts of Philadelphia. But by the time he moved there as a young lawyer in 1969, things had changed. City planners had fixed up crowded blocks of crumbling old houses and razed a congested, old wholesale produce market to make way for majestic modernist towers. Schwartz and his pediatrician wife were attracted to Society Hill’s architectural gems, tucked among its cobblestoned, walkable streets. Soon, they found themselves surrounded by a community of artists, activists, and young professionals like them.

They loved it. Society Hill allowed them to bike to work and walk to friends’ houses for Julia Child-inspired dinner parties. Today, Schwartz lives in an airy, sun-lit condo in the soaring towers that replaced the old Dock Street Market. His living room windows overlook some of the city’s most coveted addresses.

Philadelphia's Dock Street Market in 1928. Photo: Philadelphia Evening Bulletin

The reinvention of Society Hill in the 1960s is widely considered one of the first instances of gentrification — although no one called it that at the time. The term was coined in 1964 by a British sociologist to describe the nascent phenomena of the middle-and-upper-class moving into the meaner parts of London. Since then, the term has only become more fraught, hard to precisely define, and often racially loaded. No one wants to identify themselves as a gentrifier, not even a half-century later.

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