Some Philadelphia Neighborhoods Are Walking a Line Between Boom and Bust

May 23, 2017
In The News

Meet Diane Richardson, achiever of the American dream.

A Penn State graduate and the owner of a business that helps homeless veterans, Richardson followed a common trajectory for a child of the civil rights-era black middle class: She grew up in working-class neighborhoods alongside mostly black neighbors, and attended college, which was followed by a few years of working and saving while living with her parents. Then marriage and the search for a home of her own.

Like her parents, she migrated to places where she believed she could find a better life. By the time Richardson finished college in the 1960s, her parents had followed a familiar path of upward mobility from North Philadelphia to the city’s West Oak Lane section, a neighborhood that had been mostly white and Jewish, but was then filling with middle-class black homeowners.

Once Richardson left the family home and struck out on her own, she and her husband, Ulysses, rented a house just to the west of her parents. The comfortable, middle-class neighborhood was called East Mount Airy.

“These are neighborhoods where housing is often affordable and where quality of life — measured by employment rates, crime rates and public school performance — is sufficiently good that new residents are willing to play the odds and choose these neighborhoods over others in hopes that they will improve rather than decline,” writes Brophy.

But even with so much riding on the stability of these areas, a secure future is far from assured, particularly in middle neighborhoods where more than two-thirds of the population identify as African-American. These areas have not experienced the growth of more diverse or white middle neighborhoods, and there are clear indications that these areas are more vulnerable to changing economic winds and market forces.

Evans believes that the key to stability in 19150 will be organizing by groups like Medina and residents. “You must control the real estate in order to do what you want to do,” says Evans.