Philadelphia: Neighborhoods, Division, and Conflict in a Postindustrial City

By Carolyn Adams; David Bartelt et al. | Go to book overview

3
Housing and Neighborhoods

In preceding chapters we have focused on the dramatic shift in the economic base of the city and the degree of racial and ethnic conflict that has taken place against this backdrop. The new service economy that dominates the region has benefited some of the region's communities and bypassed others. Nowhere is the uneven character of Philadelphia's economic transformation more evident than in its housing stock.

To even the most casual of observers, the charm of refurbished rowhouses in gentrified and historically certified neighborhoods pales next to the wholesale abandonment found in many of the neighborhoods inhabited by black, Hispanic, and white as well. The quiet splendor of central city high-rise apartments and condominiums gives way to the noise and crowding of the vertical ghettoes of public housing. Homebound suburbanites push and crowd by the sprawled, often incoherent figures of women and men without homes, whose address is a steam vent and whose roof may well be cardboard, if that.

The economic changes that have swept the city since World War II have transformed the residential landscape of the city, but hardly with the uniformly beneficial effects generally assumed by the ideologies of progress and planning. The decentralization of economic and residential locations over the past forty years has created, in Philadelphia's case, graphic examples of the paradox of poverty and plenty, virtually side by side. The contemporary picture of housing in the city itself is one of gentrified splendor next to public housing, of abandoned houses and homeless people, and of a black population expanding into many of the city's neighborhoods, yet more segregated now than at any time over the past four decades.

These contrasts, extreme though they may be, reflect fundamental inequalities in the city's new economy, expressed in that most visible of indicators of social standing--the house. When we talk of the housing of the city of Philadelphia, in one sense we are simply indicating that the city has rich as well as poor neighborhoods, black, Hispanic, and white communities, gentrified as well as abandoned areas. If the only purpose

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