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Spruce Hill Historic District
Historic Preservation and the Diversity of Philadelphia

 

Philadelphia is a diverse city - racially, economically, educationally. The strength of Philadelphia is this diversity. But while the city as a whole is diverse, most neighborhoods, frankly, are not. For Philadelphia to fully take advantage of its diversity people of different races, different incomes, different educational levels need to be neighbors. Where does this happen in Philadelphia? In historic neighborhoods.

To understand the diversity of Philadelphia's historic neighborhoods we looked at Census Data updated to 1997. We then identified the sixteen National Register Historic Districts that were predominantly residential and were large enough so that analysis would be meaningful. We then looked at the entire city on a Census Block Group basis. A Block Group is one of the smallest levels on which Census information is available and would typically include 800 - 900 people. We learned that Philadelphia has about 1,750 Block Groups of which 106 were in our identified historic districts. A little over 6% of the population of Philadelphia lives in these historic districts. But here is what else we learned.

Philadelphia is racially diverse being about 53 percent white, 40 percent black and the balance Asian and Other. While the city as a whole is certainly diverse, the Block Groups are not. For our analysis we said that to meet the test of a diverse neighborhood, the Block Group had to be less than 80% white and less than 80% black, that is no extreme concentration of any race. Citywide, barely one Block Group in five met that test. 79% of Philadelphia small neighborhood clusters were effectively all white or all black. Not so in the historic neighborhoods, however. In the 106 Block Groups within historic districts nearly half met the diversity test - people of all races living together because of the appeal of the historic neighborhood.

These were not all high income neighborhoods, by the way. The income distribution in Philadelphia's historic neighborhoods mirrors the income of the city as a whole. There is housing available in historic neighborhoods to fit a wide range of income levels.

Philadelphia is a city that is losing people. Since 1980 it has lost between 12 and 14% of the population. Some will argue that a city's diversity is what drives people away. Not true in the historic districts. The historic neighborhoods have lost less than 5%.

These historic neighborhoods only make up 6.3% of the city's entire population but:

  • fifteen percent of the people that moved into Philadelphia from the suburbs in the last five years went to historic neighborhoods
  • twenty one percent of the people that moved into Philadelphia from other parts of the country moved to historic neighborhoods
  • Historic neighborhoods are home to nearly 24% of the college graduates
  • Historic neighborhoods are home to over 28% of those with graduate and professional degrees.

Historic neighborhoods add stability to Philadelphia. Historic neighborhoods, almost exclusively, reflect the wonderful diversity of Philadelphia. Historic neighborhoods are the home to Philadelphians of every race and income level - not in isolation but in combination.

An economically healthy Philadelphia needs to appeal to every economic group, and historic neighborhoods do that. Philadelphia needs to attract brain-power workers, and historic neighborhoods do that. Philadelphia needs to re-attract residents from the suburbs and elsewhere, and historic neighborhoods do that.

Diversity is one of Philadelphia's greatest strengths. Historic neighborhoods are another. How appropriate that the value of historic neighborhoods is recognized by the entire breadth of Philadelphia's diversity.

Excerpted from Economic Benefits of Preserving Philadelphia's Past, a study conducted by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. Used by permission. The full study is available from the The Preservation Alliance, Sixteen Sixteen Walnut Street, Phila., PA 19103
Tel: 215-546-1146. Fax: 215-546-1180. Web site: www.preservationalliance.com

Researched and Written By:
Donovan D. Rypkema
Katherine M. Wiehagen

Project Director: Patricia Wilson Aden
Editor: Elise Vider
Designer: Maryann Devine
Research Assistant: Stephen Cipolone

Copyright 1998 by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. This material may not be reproduced, including electronically, without the written consent of the Preservation Alliance.

This publication was produced by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. The Preservation Alliance actively promotes the appreciation, protection, and revitalization of the Philadelphia region's historic buildings, communities, and landscapes.