Fels study shows reinvestment revitalizes North Philly

Everyone wins when neighborhood reinvestment reinforces—rather than undermines—the diversity of a community. A new report from Penn’s Fels Institute of Government details how the redevelopment of vacant property in North Philadelphia is transforming the area.

The study, titled “Neighborhood Stabilization and Safety in East North Philadelphia,” documents the success of an organization called the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (Association of Puerto Ricans on the March, or APM) in working with public agencies to reduce crime, raise incomes and attract new working households to the neighborhood between 1998 and 2010. The full report is available at: www.fels.upenn.edu/apm_stabilization.

The APM target area is located in North Philadelphia, east of Broad Street, bounded by North 4th Street, North 9th Street, Jefferson Street and York Street.

Lead author Christopher Kingsley, a research associate at Fels, wrote the report under the supervision of Fels Institute Senior Consultant John Kromer. They studied neighborhood crime data from Penn’s Cartographic Modeling Lab, U.S. Census information and Esri and PolicyMap demographic projections to track improvement in the area over the years.

“When I was the city’s housing director in the 1990s, we inventoried all of the vacant lots in the APM’s target area and found well over 2,100,” Kromer says. “I had an opportunity with Fels to come back 10 years later to find out that more than half were developed or improved.”

Back in the 1980s, the area was known as Fairhill. But when it experienced a 20 percent drop in population between 1989 and 1999 it lost its neighborhood identity. “It had a rather unimaginative official name in the city planning books—the Temple urban renewal area,” Kromer says.

Now, the neighborhood is regaining its lost character. According to the Fels report, fewer than 1 percent of residents moved out of the area between 1999 and 2009. Census projections estimate that the community’s ratio of white, African American and Hispanic residents has remained consistent throughout the previous decade. Households in the area are about 5 percent wealthier than they were a decade ago, and residents are better educated.

Nilda Ruiz, president and CEO of the APM, grew up just outside the survey area, at 3rd and Diamond streets. “For years this neighborhood was easily ignored and unseen. A lot of the houses were deteriorating,” she says. “Today green spaces are replacing vacant lots, new LEED-certified housing is under construction and a community-owned supermarket employs community residents.”

Soon the neighborhood that has gone so long without a name will once again have one. The APM is undertaking a quality-of-life study, and Ruiz says one of the organization’s goals is to have residents come up with a name for their neighborhood.

Fels study shows reinvestment revitalizes North Philly