Yesterday I met up with a long time friend and Brooklyn business owner and a commercial real estate developer pal. My friend is looking into expanding his business in Philly so I tagged along with them to scope out neighborhoods talk to other business owners and get a general feel of Philadelphia. We had some pretty interesting conversations regarding gentrification, the inevitable boring cloud that will roll over nyc due to pricing out creatives, and we also talked about our various view on what the future holds as far as urban development.
If you ever want to really get the lowdown on what’s to come in your neighborhood, make friends with a real estate developer and members of city council. So much of the conversations about what will be allowed to go where are are determined by those two entities…with supposed input from the community residents. The part that was so startling to me about many of the views of the developer was how much money and aquisition of it seemed to be a primarily concern. For examples, the proposed plan to build a gated high rise luxury apartment building in an area of row houses. The community was completely against it. The developer was for it stating that by bring in higher earning residents the city could have more tax revenue. My concern is that property taxes are done based on average area incomes so that would inevitably push out old tenants by the tax increase. He argued that the schools and public facilities, such as parks would get more funding from that and get better…but better for whom? My concern was primarily for the residents that currently live in the neighborhood not the rich ones he hoped to invite. I understand that change is inevitable and cities are constantly in a state of flux. One thing that became very apparent in that conversation is that there is a huge gap in perspective in how residents view where they live and developers view that same region. I truely feel that most folks just want a decent roof over their head in a safe and neighborhoor. There are so many people in the business of shaping what that means to potential buyers, often done in a way that doesn’t support diversity in age, backgrounds and socioeconomic position. Doing that isn’t generally as profitable. So that gap in perspective of what the future of the neighborhood could be is so large that folks are often not even speaking the same language.
I don’t think that all developers are bad folks and there are some beautiful examples of valuable developments such as Crane art and the teachers lofts on philadelphia. It’s just that so much of the positive development is rarely enjoyed by people of color and old neighborhood residents. I’m sure alot of this has to do with the limited participation and involment if those parties with city planning, funding and development.
That limited involvement sounds like the same problem with every other sector (with the exclusion of activism) of business, from art, fashion, music, finance, tech, entertainment etc.
At the end of our conversation I had a series of mixed emotions and thoughts.