Demolition Spurs Gentrification in Philadelphia

WHEN COLUMBIA Avenue was Jump Street, and Ridge Avenue was a vital commercial artery that snaked through the heart of North Philly, the neighborhood known as Sharswood was a place where black doctors and teachers provided a middle-class buffer against the scourge of poverty.

That changed in 1969, when the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) completed construction on the Norman Blumberg Apartments, a low-income, high-rise public housing development. The housing project brought with it the kind of impoverishment that was hard to overcome. The middle class soon left the neighborhood, and those who stayed behind watched a once-thriving community become a haven for crime and abandonment.

The projects, and the surrounding community, remained that way for years. Then last year, PHA Executive Director Kelvin Jeremiah decided to visit the development alone, sans suit and tie, and  was told by brazen criminals during an evening visit to Blumberg that he might be shot. I understood what he meant. I’d had the same experience.

Gentrification in Philadelphia could change that community. But will everyone benefit?

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(Featured photo: Norman Blumberg Apartments by Solomon Jones)

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