Surprised and not in Good Way (Philadelphia, Reading: homes, neighborhood, gated community)
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In Philly on business, really for the first time and I have to say just driving around this is one gritty city. Large parts of this city have buildings that seem to be dilapidated, trash on the street everywhere, young disenfranchised youth's walking up and down the street. In broad daylight I would not have been shocked to be car-jacked in every are I went through except the central business district.
What is going on around here, and why have the residents of this very American an storied city allowed this to occur?
You should come to San Antonio, Texas..
3/4ths of our city practically looks like a war zone. A tiny fraction of our city is our beautiful downtown and nice inner city neighborhoods and the rest of the city is the ugliest sprawl you can imagine.
Personally, I found much of Atlanta to be a huge dump, just less noticeable because it's sprawled out all over the place.
Folks in Philly know it's a problem, I think they just aren't sure what to do about it. In Atlanta, since you mention it, they have turned around exactly almost to a T what ails Philly. They once had a very huge portion of the population in blight. Some old run down industrial areas, and run down housing hoods allover downtown. Not to mention their special southern 'history' which didn't help. However today the city is moving forward and fast and that includes the areas which were in severe decline. I'm not an expert on what they did, but whatever it is it has worked. A lot of old things were knocked down to build newer stuff.
Anyhow I only wish the best, because Philadelphia is very American and helped forge the nation as it is today.
Phillys crime rate is roughly 2x the crime rate in Dallas BUt then again Dallas's crime rate is 2x higher than New York's...why does Dallas allow that?? A lot of New Yorkers, white and non-white, would throw a fit if they had Dallas' crime problem...
NYC has the money to keep out crime. The context of the quote about Texans came because I thought I recalled a mural of Malcom X in Philly, and X was raised in Dallas. Or so I thought from reading his autobiography, but can't recall if that's right. I was pointing out the irony of that..
Nevertheless, what you are able to do in Texas is teardown buildings. If private interests are allowed to function, they can keep property in usuable condition. In other words, those places where I was in Philadelphia, no one has enough interest to maintain the upkeep of the property. It's not an accdent that this much of a town would be so bad. You can't control everyone, but you can prevent things from getting this out of hand.
I figured the OP would not get a positive reaction from her post. As an outsider myself, who has only visited Philly a few times, I can understand the reaction. Most cities really bad run down areas are more contained in my experience. Coming from Raleigh-Durham, this would be absolute culture shock had you never lived anywhere else. More sprawl, much more newer housing and well preserved older homes where the money takes care of it. We have our warzones like anywhere, but they are much smaller, contained and kinda in places where most people would never venture anywhere near deliberately. There too are places where very nice blocks run a block away from nasty crack house blocks, but say only on one side of the city, not scattered througout and clearly defined by east of X street. I have lived/been in other rust belt cities and NE cities and not see the extent of economic damage for lack of better term than here. Although I can't imagine how bad it is in Detroit, from what I've seen on TV and youtube. When you drive into Philly on I-95, its not exactly inviting or inspiring like say DC. You are not seeing the parts that Philladelphians seem to love.
I'm not trying to draw comparisons to NC, although much of NC has faced similar loss of Blue collar Mfg. jobs in tobacco, textile, furniture, and other industries that left long ago. Some have adapted, moved on and reinvented themselves and others are still showing their wounds and are desperate for jobs and industry to relocate. In once case, Dell was lured to the Triad area with a big tax incentive and a few year later shut down and left. I liken Philly more to Cincinnati, where I was born and still have family there. You see some of the same trends in areas there, but you also see a lot of revitalization and rebirth. I always enjoy my visits to see how it changes over the years.
San Francisco is probably my favorite city and it has some downright nasty places, but again mostly contained, which is what I think the OP was conveying and not trying to be insulting. I have to somewhat agree. It is a little surprising if you are not from this area. I am in town for the weekend to look at housing for an upcoming relocation to Philly and am a little let down at some of what I saw, but still holding out hope and trying to find a good fit. I've been here in the past and seen some of the good and bad parts (not all) and knew what to expect to some degree and still find myself surprised at some stuff I see.
I had some high hopes for some of the NW areas, but it hasn't all lived up to expectations. I doubted some peoples opinions even and thought they were exaggerating or were sheltered, only to be wrong. It is very sad too, because we see gorgeous architecture and such potential in these neighborhoods like Germantown, E. Oak lane, Mt. Airy and others, but the blight, neglect, trash all over and decay of time is mostly hard to not see (disregarding the charm). Granted some blocks are better than others, but you can just imagine how amazing these places must have been in their prime and could be once again. It is great to see that some parts are trying to be restored to their past glory, but its definitely something that is going to take time. It makes you wonder what made people flee in the first place or let their beautiful neighborhoods fall apart.
I've been to Atlanta a few times and you see some bad places, but mostly to the south and you see lots of nice places all over, so its understandable to see her reaction. Here its kinda like you need a guide map to steer you to the great parts and avoid what she is experiencing. Atlanta is a place that has been growing and attracting new residents and Philly and other NE cities have been losing people fleeing from the cold, taxes, crime, job losses or whatever. At least 1/3 to 1/2 of the residents of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill and surrounding areas are from NY, NJ, CT, MI alone. You see people every day on the forums there from these parts, asking where to live?, how is employment?, schools?, QOL? etc. I left NY to go there myself 15 years ago.
For my personal experience so far, its a little unusual from a house shopping experience here. Where most places someone could tell you to live in town X or Y or stay to the North side of the city, its not so clear cut here. Just from reading the forums and talking to realtors etc, it always comes with exceptions and limitations by block or street. X is a good town, but you really want to be on _____ street and north of _____.
_____ has some great housing stock, but you don't want to live there.
Very unusual, but I am starting to see why.
Interesting perspectives from outsiders -- it's always good to get some objective thoughts with people not that familiar with the city.
Clearly Philadelphia has no shortage of blighted neighborhoods, and with regard to the experiences of those looking around here for the first time -- you're absolutely right. It is surprising even for people who frequent the city relatively often. It's also nothing short of tragic that many great, well-designed historic neighborhoods fell into such disrepair. However, I think the fundamental problem in Philly leading to such a lack of upkeep is something to which cities such as Atlanta -- and definitely San Francisco -- cannot relate: poverty. That may be a little bit of an oversimplification, but it really does describe a an overarching perspective for far too many Philadelphians. Over a quarter of Philadelphians live under the poverty line; it is 9th in the top 10 cities with the highest poverty rates (with populations of 250,000 or more):
Thus, cities like San Francisco can "contain" their dilapidated neighborhoods more simply because they have fewer citizens that lack resources to keep up their properties. I mean, if you're hardly able to put food on your table, are you going to be concerned about the look of your property? Not to mention, when so much of your populace is of lesser means, how can you expect to receive an adequate amount of property taxes for public services like trash removal, tearing down of dilapidated structures, etc. that make neighborhoods look more stable/desirable. Of course, these problems are not unique to Philadelphia, but the degree to which you find it is an issue here speaks to why outsiders may find a higher proportion of neighborhoods in disrepair than expected based on other cities in their experience.
That said, I firmly believe the revitalization trend -- the economic downturn aside -- is taking root in the neighborhoods that need it. Believe it or not, some neighborhoods were in far worse condition as little as 10 years ago. In the coming years, I think time will continue to be on the side of Philadelphia.
The sad thing is that a lot of America, suburban, rural, and urban areas, are beginning to look a lot like a third world country. It's definitely not isolated to the Philadelphia area, if you've done any amount of traveling and bothered to stray from the touristy areas you will find it in abundance. I think cities like Philadelphia will begin to make a slow turn-around though, as the high prices of commodities begin to force us to change our high consumption suburban lifestyles.
There is no doubt poverty is to blame for problems all over America and lack of education opportunities or just not caring (bad upbringing?). I feel for the poor and homeless believe me. And I don't know how some of them survive in the northern climates. It is tragic.
What surprises me after looking around is how did some of these people ever afford to get into $200-300k+ plus homes in the first place? I doubt a place like Oak lane west went to hell over night. I looked at a property there that on paper was a steal at $200k, smaller than most of its neighbors, and in halfway decent condition, but the more I looked the next day around the neighborhood there were places falling apart, boarded up and I have now ruled it out. I can't say I wasn't warned Those google earth photos are a little out of date. Funny enough though, there was what looked like an unmarked cop car in one of the photos. When I went to look at the home, that same car was in the street and I commented on it. My realtor pointed out that the tires were flat! LOL That means it has been sitting there for a long time.
if you've done any amount of traveling and bothered to stray from the touristy areas you will find it in abundance.
But not to the extent nor level you see in Philadelphia. Like was said already, in most cities the bad areas get contained. I didn't see any containment here.
Aside, I also went to Reading. What I saw there seems to make the case for severe economic decline, not lack of law and order as a possible culprit. I saw what amounted to shanty towns within that small town. I don't think alot of Americans know how bad it got here. None of us could fathom living in these towns, it's nothing like the west nor South East. Allthough the SE does have poverty, it is contained and forcefully perhaps due to the racial pasts. And now those small SE towns are growing as the auto and other industries move in. The west is just plain nice in a lot areas but not dense- yet.
I agree with the OP, it is shocking. I think people who live here have been desensitized to how decayed most of the city is. If you were to stop and analyze with a critical eye, you'll see it even in the "nicer areas of the city". I really think Philadelphia needs non-resident leadership in city government versus the old-school hometown types who think everything is just great as it is, or think things are actually improving. Outside of a few areas of Center City and surrounding neighborhoods, it's a downhill slope. For every improved neighborhood, two are failing.
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