What Is This Place?
Philadelinquency is one of Philadelphia’s most-loved / most-hated blogs. It’s read by thousands of City employees and the public at-large. Most people never want to be featured in a story here.
The original slogan was “the underbelly of Philadelphia Real Estate”, and it still is. This place was one of the first to document and investigate how bad real-estate decision-making and disinvestment wrecked our city. That manifests itself into social dilemmas like a never-ending school funding crisis, which in turn raises our crime rate, which then in-turn made parts of Philadelphia blighted war zones.
When I launched Philadelinquency my goal was to showcase how neighborhoods are hurt by bad decision-making–whether that’s public official policy or it’s slumlords exploiting City policy that coddles them–and to write the articles in such a way that a hoagiemouth can appreciate; the lifetime high-school educated rowhouse resident who comprises the bulk of the population of this city and who has lived through the city’s decline.
Sure, there’s PlanPhilly for this sort of stuff. But PlanPhilly is dry, lost in minutiae and it’s written squarely for “yuppies” (that’s the misapplied term lifetime residents here use to refer to you creative-classers). It’s also not “fun” (like I can be).
Philadelinquency has had a direct hand in changing some of our city’s laws and policies, and I have also had a role to play in getting public officials fired from their jobs (like this fella).
I (the owner) am also the city’s king of public records investigation. Reporters from nearly all of the city’s local news sources have come to me asking for help on researching figures for their stories or to research property. I can investigate backgrounds like nobody’s business and I’ve learned how to skim through 200-page technical legal filings during lunch breaks on my day job.
I have to do this because many of the people and things that I write about want to sue me. Many of the figures that I write about have access to money and would prefer to shut me up, and a couple of them have also tried to shut this site down. Throughout this experiment I’ve learned to become a First Amendment pro.
It’s simple. Social problems have a lot more to do with property than with people.
I am certainly one of those “you are a product of your environment”-types. Sure, upbringing also has a lot to do with it–but in the chicken-and-egg comparison between nature and nurture, nature is always a cause, nurture is a reaction.
Perfect example: Since the early 1970s the traditional school of thought for social woes is to throw money at the problem. Crime too high? We need more cops. How do we get more cops? Reallocate more money to the problem. There, solved.
My view is that style of thought never worked. It certainly tries to bandage symptoms, but it doesn’t deal with where a crime problem originally came from.
Disinvestment is what dragged our city’s population from a high of 2 million people. ½ a million of them left. Social safety nets combined with the cost of relocating and the City’s failure to attract jobs in any meaningful way contributes to poor population that’s a bit higher than any large American city (it’s not much higher).
I live in Kensington, Philadelphia’s most-fashionable place to live for young people. Real estate here is the cheapest in the entire city. It’s loaded full with all the social ills that have given Philadelphia a bad reputation with an added bonus: most of the heroin and opioids consumed in the Delaware Valley are sold within a couple miles of my house.
Why? When all the industry packed up and left, it was easy to re-use this dying section of the city as the regional headquarters for the drug trade.
But even here in a place that for forty years local officials from City Hall did nothing to bring investment back into this place, things are changing for the better.
…is being turned into…
A residential real estate boom came to Philadelphia in 2000 as the suburbs continued to grow. Many newly-minted arrivees take advantage of the cheaper residential property and lower property taxes to live here with the added bonus of conveniences that dense cities have by default.
That growth has made is possible for groups like the New Kensington Community Development Corporation to take on the Orinoka Mills project. This building is located in the heart of the heroin-trade in one of the most dilapidated parts of this city.
Gentrification Is Not A Dirty Word, But It’s Certainly An Overloaded Term
Ten years ago the phenomenon of gentrification was still new to most Philadelphians. Nobody could believe that Point Breeze (or Kensington) would be desirable places to live–or why anyone who has means would want to locate to such neighborhoods and take on the challenges of living in them.
But gentrification did come and the results are visible in both neighborhoods. There’s more commercial interest in Kensington (particularly along Frankford Avenue and Front Street) than ever before. Violent crime rates have steadily decreased in both areas, while property crime has increased. (Gentrification isn’t a cure-all for crime)
Most of the gentrification in Philadelphia has occurred organically. That is; private land transactions take place where homebuilders and commercial developers are buying lots that they select and take a risk on them.
Hopefully with enough time more of the highly-skilled labor force living in Philadelphia will reach a critical mass that private employers see Philadelphia as a must-have presence.
In essence, convert disinvestment spirals into virtuous cycles.
Why Local Politics Matters
But there’s a catch: misguided City officials certainly have a big role to play in this process and it’s often their uninformed decision-making that can muck things up. The City owns huge swaths of land, over 13,000 parcels, and the City relies on a kiss-the-ring political process of dealmaking where district City Council members dole that land out.
This immense amount of power with virtually no checks and balances is part of the fabric of corruption in our city and it’s often the fodder for Philadelinquency.
While Philadelinquency is just merely a blog, and I am merely its owner, I’ve been fortunate enough to be a voice to the voiceless and to put reason and logic into the way we think about how we live and govern ourselves locally. Populism with a purpose.