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Politics Mondays: Street Violence: A Mayor's Legacy by The Board Of The African-American Business & Residents Association


When a young African-American male was shot outside the new Pearl Theater on Dec. 7 - just two days after it opened - the local media, including the Daily News, and elected officials characterized that act of violence as symbolic of a neighborhood complicit in its own demise.

According to Mayor Street and District Councilman Clarke, North Philadelphians need to make a decision: Embrace and celebrate new developments like the Pearl or be condemned to the unpleasant conditions that have imprisoned them for the last 50 years.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Violence similar to what occurred outside that mammoth development at Broad and Cecil B. Moore is a byproduct of the neglect and frequent hostility of the mayor, City Council, wealthy developers and other city elites toward North Philadelphia and other troubled neighborhoods.

Instead of investing in the long-suffering people of North Central Philadelphia, the city and the Redevelopment Authority (RDA), in conjunction with alleged non-profits and prominent black Philadelphians, allowed developer Bart Blatstein to create a complex with low-wage jobs for the community and housing for 1,200 Temple students. Nowhere in the planning was there room for affordable housing or neighborhood ownership of any portion of the complex. The developer gets richer; Temple expands on land that could have been used to benefit residents; the gentrification of North Central continues unabated.

Even a casual visitor to the community over the last five years would have witnessed the extraordinary scale of the demolition of housing and commercial structures, funded by the mayor's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI), ostensibly done in the name of community development. Many architecturally significant buildings were razed to make room for large developments, with their economies of scale.

Where land could not be obtained through the marketplace, the RDA used eminent domain to acquire it. The Philadelphia Housing Authority moved entire families to Northeast Philly. Nothing was democratic about the real estate thefts, relocations or which buildings were demolished.

And now that structures on this land are completed, and the NTI funding nearly exhausted, neighbors are left in a far more precarious position than they were before John Street targeted his old district for "transformation."

Elders are facing dramatically higher real-estate taxes; rents are no longer affordable; both new and old neighborhood businesses that could have been funded with city assistance on neighborhood land are nearly gone. Everywhere are winds of change and the momentum is toward the removal of the poor and long-time residents from North Central.

And so, when a young man is nearly killed outside a sparkling new edifice built without regard to the housing or living-wage employment needs of that community and within a neighborhood being gentrified out of existence, is that crime actually a cry for help, or attention, or respect?

THE SHOOTER is clearly responsible for pulling the trigger and must be held accountable.

But the mayor and his friends created the conditions of hopelessness and despair that made such actions and many more to come inevitable. Far from this being representative of a community that embraced violence, that single shot carried with it a complete and utter repudiation of the mayor's NTI strategy.

The Pearl , like the Westrum and Pennrose developments to the immediate west, are not shining examples of a bright future for North Philadelphia, but hollow illustrations of a city's failure to address the needs of its poor.

The city and the broader media still have not connected the dots. This means that the violence will continue and the new facades will be incapable of obscuring the ugly truth about the city's priorities.

And yet, despite the worst intentions of the city, there are grassroots efforts to rebuild North Philadelphia and similar communities around the city.

Residents and business owners are rejecting the popular lies that the poor want or somehow support violence, crime, litter-filled sidewalks and other urban ills.

The real battle is not between those who pull the triggers and the rest of our communities. It is battle that pits a corrupt and arrogant City Hall against everyday Philadelphians who are deciding to remain residents, organizing to clean up their communities and prospering here.

Gentrification is a greater threat than violence because the former will destroy any chance we have of living in our neighborhood, while the latter is temporary. Communities can defeat both, however, with leadership, planning, better decisions in the voting booth, and faith in one another.

This op-ed appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News and was submitted by the board of the African-American Business & Residents Association (Peggy Martin, Margaret Morris, Al Alston and Sheila Murray, and Frank Hailey, the acting executive director).
The African-American Business & Residents Association can be reached at aabra@thenile.com.


The African-American Business & Residents Association

Monday, January 8, 2007

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