Neighborhood Stabilization: Investment and Redevelopment in Nicetown-Tioga and Harrowgate
Neighborhoods are constantly in flux. The North Philadelphia neighborhoods of Nicetown-Tioga and Harrowgate have continuously changed over the past 100 years. But not all change is equal. Neighborhood changes are often distributed unequally among different population segments, since the flow of investments and allocation of resources are determined both by market forces and public policy, often rife with biases, implicit or explicit. The most effective way to encourage inclusive growth--where the benefits of change are more equitably shared—is to act proactively and collaboratively before unequal forces of change take root. This means it is important to identify the tides of change at the neighborhood level and to understand how these changes manifest.
What are the signs of unequal neighborhood change, and what proactive actions can be taken to mitigate it? This data brief examines these issues to coincide with the Economy League’s 2019 Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange (GPLEX) Regional Exploration on neighborhood stabilization in North Philadelphia presented by PNC Bank.
The Neighborhood Context
This Regional Exploration brings GPLEXers to the North Philadelphia neighborhoods of Nicetown-Tioga and Harrowgate. Both Nicetown-Tioga and Harrowgate have rich histories. While originally rural farming townships during the city’s early history (with the additional attraction of medicinal freshwater springs in Harrowgate), the industrialization of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries converted both areas into urban working-class neighborhoods. It was during this time when many of the neighborhoods’ modern amenities were built, including accessible public transit lines, several parks and playgrounds, a considerable amount of low-cost single-family homes, and culturally rich commercial districts.
Nicetown-Tioga and Harrowgate Neighborhoods in Philadelphia
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From the 1850s to the 1950s, the neighborhoods became home to a succession of working-class ethnic communities. Nicetown-Tioga saw residents of German, Dutch, Irish, Polish, Jewish, Puerto Rican, and African American heritage, while Harrowgate remained a home for predominately ethnic Irish, German, and Scottish communities. As deindustrialization picked up steam in the 1960s, systemic redlining, racially unfavorable federal housing policies, realtor blockbusting, and the construction of interstate highways caused a racial remapping of these areas.
Redlining in Philadelphia in 1937
Most of Nicetown-Tioga’s working-class white population left the neighborhood for the suburbs in the 1960s while redlining made the area accessible for low-income African American populations. Today’s neighborhood is 86% African American, home to an active community fighting against the hard-hitting issues of crime and poverty resulting from decades of racially-determined disinvestment.
Deindustrialization in Harrowgate left the area with a series of abandoned factories and vacant lots, but the area’s ethnically white population declined only in the early 1990s. Today’s neighborhood is 63% Latinx/Hispanic, 18% African American, and 15% Non-Hispanic white, and many members of the community are working to address some of the area’s key issues, especially its proximity to the center of the region’s opioid epidemic in Kensington and higher than average crime rates.
Identifying Unequal Neighborhood Change
As previously noted, not all neighborhood change is equal. The distribution of benefits that can result from changes like new housing and increased business activity tend to exclude low-income and non-white residential groups; these changes are most often associated with gentrification, that is, with the rapid migration of more affluent and educated people into lower income neighborhoods. Unequal growth affects both the physical and demographic landscape of a neighborhood. As real estate activity begins to increase, the racial makeup of the neighborhood shifts, property values and median household incomes increase, rates of homeownership tend to decrease, and impoverished populations tend to concentrate in certain blocks or streets before being completely displaced.
We tracked these signs of unequal change in Nicetown-Tioga and Harrowgate using publicly available data from the City’s Department of Licenses and Inspections and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. We first created a density heatmap of demolition activity across the city using building and zoning permits from 2008 to 2018. The map shows how development activity—via demolition permits--remain scattered throughout North Philadelphia with relative concentration in Lower North Philadelphia and along rapid transit lines. Between 2017 and 2018, however, demolition activity ramps up throughout North Philadelphia and becomes moderately pronounced in Nicetown-Tioga and Harrowgate.
Philadelphia's Demolition Permits from 2008 to 2018
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This increase in demolitions also coincided with a series of demographic changes. Between 2010 and 2017, the population in Harrowgate increased by 6.1% - in large part due to the 12.0% increase in the Latinx/Hispanic population - along with a 2.2% increase in median property value and 12.9% increase in median household income. This also coincided with a 7.2% decrease in the number of residents living below the federal poverty level. At the same time, the number of households receiving some form of public assistance increased by 5.5% and homeowner occupancy decreased by 4.4%.
The pace of change in Nicetown-Tioga between 2010 and 2017 was less pronounced and largely pointed toward an increasing concentration of poverty. The total resident population decreased by 11.1% with the majority African American population decreasing by 9.7%. Indicators like median household income, homeowner occupancy, percent of households receiving some form of public assistance, and the number of full-time, year-round workers all trended negatively. Bright spots included a 1.7% decrease in the number of unemployed residents and a 3% increase in the percent of individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher. It is possible that these changes are related to the increased demolition activity in the neighborhood - demolitions increased from only 5 parcels in 2008 to 37 in 2018, indicating the beginnings of an upswing in real estate activity.
Drivers of Stabilization and Inclusive Growth
To counter tendencies toward inequitable growth, strategies should focus on distributing the benefits of new development while simultaneously creating resources that strengthening residents’ ability to participate in their neighborhood’s trajectory. Low-income residents need the wherewithal to adapt to unfavorable changes.
Elements to consider include:
Affordable housing – stable and secure living arrangements are the foundation of economic well-being
Educational needs of current students and adults – education is key for residents’ civic participation and employment readiness
Workforce development and career readiness training – residents need to overcome the barriers keeping them from sustainable employment options
Sustainable job creation within the community – residents who own a business or work within their own neighborhood feel a greater tie to the area and are less likely to be displaced
Physical and mental health needs – residents should have access to quality healthcare both while employed and when searching for employment
Childcare needs – parents and guardians should have access to quality childcare resources while they work
Smart real estate investment – cross-collaborations of residents, community advocates, real estate developers, city planners, and private investors should work together to build equitable neighborhood assets
Engaging local anchor institutions – hospitals, universities, churches, and other social institutions should work with residents to create education and employment opportunities within the community
While these issues may seem daunting, there are plenty of local programs already incorporating them in their initiatives. One such enterprise pertinent to North Philadelphia is the Lenfest North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative (LNPWI) spearheaded by the Lenfest Foundation, Temple University, and myriad community-based workforce development organizations. This initiative aims to strengthen the earning potential of North Philadelphia’s low-income residents by providing job and career readiness training. Building on foundational analytics by Philadelphia Works Inc. the Economy League provided extensive analysis and a streamlined set of recommendations to help inform LNPWI strategic investments that will help connect more North Philadelphia residents to sustainable employment opportunities. Another example is the West Philadelphia Promise Zone initiative – a partnership between Drexel University, the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, Shared Prosperity, and a committee of local organizations won designation for a portion of West Philadelphia as a federal Promise Zone. This initiative, facilitated by a grant under the Obama Administration, provided incentives for local anchor institutions and community organizations to collaboratively address factors contributing to persistent poverty in the neighborhood – including education, housing, public safety, sustainable employment, and health.
When formulating stabilization strategies, it is also important to consider the unique physical and social landscapes of the neighborhoods in question. Nicetown-Tioga and Harrowgate both contain distinct histories, communities, cultural heritages, physical structures, and issues that require unique solutions. For this reason, it is always important to have members of the community involved at every stage of the stabilization strategy. No one is more informed about the potential trajectory of their neighborhood than the individuals who live and work there. For this reason, the GPLEX cohort will be meeting with representatives of community organizations and anchor institutions in Nicetown-Tioga and Harrowgate who are working to get ahead of unequal change in their respective neighborhoods.
 Downs, Jacob. 2014. “Walking Encyclopedia: Harrowgate.” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Retrieved from: (https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/walking-encyclopedia-tour-harrowgate/).
 Philadelphia City Planning Commission, City of Philadelphia. 2010. “Tioga: Strategies for Neighborhood Revitalization.” Philadelphia, PA: City of Philadelphia. Retrieved from: (https://www.phila.gov/media/20190517140010/Tioga_Strategies_for_Neighborhood_Revitalization_2010.pdf).
 Marin, Max. 2019. “’Where’s Harrowgate?’ A Philadelphia Neighborhood Tries to Reclaim its Name.” BillyPenn: February 17. Retrieved from: (https://billypenn.com/2019/02/17/wheres-harrowgate-a-philadelphia-neighborhood-tries-to-reclaim-its-name/).
FURTHER READINGS ON THIS TOPIC:
Hidden Winners in Neighborhood Gentrification - CityLab 2019
Innovation Districts - Brookings 2019
Forgotten Middle Neighborhoods - Governing 2018