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Spruce Hill Historic District
Questions Asked At The April 24 Public Meeting

 

University of Pennsylvania

Is the UCHS working with Penn on this? If so, in what way? If not why not?
The UCHS is not working with the University of Pennsylvania on this effort. Most of Penn's campus is outside of the historic district boundaries, and so Penn is not directly affected. Buildings that Penn owns that are within the district boundaries will be subject to review, and as owners, Penn will be notified of hearing dates and issues just as all other building owners are notified, once the nomination is submitted and the Historical Commission begins the public notification/educational process.

Re: preserving fabric of the community - how would you envision expansion of local institutions affecting the current neighborhood? Do you actually believe Penn will expand westward?
Right now, we are not aware of any plans for the westward expansion of Penn. Historically, expansion of large institutions into residential neighborhoods has often meant the demolition of historic houses and commercial buildings, as happened with blocks of Walnut and Locust Street in the 50's and 60's; and as happened in Powelton Village (where Drexel is expanding) on Race Streets, 33rd and 34th Streets in the 70's. The UCHS believes that the historic designation will enable residents to preserve the fabric of the community.

Does the University of Pennsylvania have a position on this? And if so, what is it? and if the proponents don't know, why haven't they found out?
This issue has been repeatedly raised in various community forum meetings, open to all members of the community and generally attended by representatives of community groups, including UCHS, civic associations, individual community members, and representatives of the University. The University of Pennsylvania has not expressed a position on the historic designation issue.

Penn's Center for Community Partnerships includes a recommendation on its web site that the historic designation process for Spruce Hill proceed. What financial and other assistance, including help in obtaining grants, have the groups sponsoring and paying for the preparation of this nomination received from the University?
The Center for Community Partnerships hosts an informational web site that contains a link to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission Report, "The Plan for West Philadelphia" in which the Planning Commission recommends the creation of an historic district for Spruce Hill.; this is neither a recommendation nor an endorsement of historic designation by the Center for Community Partnerships. Neither the UCHS, nor the joint fundraising group for the historic district (comprised of members of both UCHS and the Spruce Hill Civic Association) has received any financial assistance, or any other assistance of any kind, from Penn.

Don't the Historic District proposal and the boundaries of the catchment area for the Penn Assisted school together, if not separately, point to "gentrification" that will raise purchase and rental prices to the point where a lot of people who now live here might otherwise find this a desirable area will be forced out?
While housing and rental prices have certainly risen in recent years, this is part of a city-wide trend, and is not attributable directly to any one factor. Historic districts are only one element of the many issues that determine the market value of a property, or the market rent a landlord chooses to charge. In addition, to quote from a recent study, "gentrification" is often a positive force in a neighborhood; people often stay in an improving neighborhood. It is the deterioration of a neighborhood that causes people to leave.

The following is reprinted from an article on several recent studies of gentrification:

(from the New York Times, March 26, 2002)

"We all think we know how gentrification works. Developers and yuppies discover charm in an old neighborhood, and soon the very people who created the neighborhood can't afford it anymore. Janitors and artists are forced out of their homes to make room for lawyers and bankers.
This process has been routinely denounced in neighborhoods like Harlem and Park Slope in Brooklyn. But when researchers recently looked for evidence of such turnover, the results were surprising.
Gentrification does not cause an exodus of the poor and the working class, according to a study in New York and another in Boston. Just the opposite happens: people with relatively little income and education become more likely to stick around. The rate of turnover declines, apparently because people don't like to leave a neighborhood when it's improving.
You may have a hard time believing these results, but you can't dismiss them as propaganda from developers. The New York study was done by Lance Freeman, a professor of planning at Columbia University, and Frank Braconi, an economist and the executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, a well-respected nonprofit research organization with a centrist position in New York's housing wars.
There are always, of course, some people who move out of gentrifying neighborhoods. But then, some people would move out even if the neighborhood didn't change. To see how gentrification affects turnover, Dr. Freeman and Dr. Braconi analyzed the city's Housing and Vacancy Survey, which is gathered by revisiting the same 15,000 housing units every three years.
According to the survey, only 5 percent of the New Yorkers who moved during the late 1990's reported being forced to move by high rents. That percentage was a little lower than during the real estate doldrums of the early 1990's, when there was less gentrification going on.
For a more precise measure, Dr. Freeman and Dr. Braconi looked at the survey data in seven gentrifying neighborhoods: the Lower East Side, Chelsea, Harlem and Morningside Heights in Manhattan, and Williamsburg, Fort Greene and Park Slope in Brooklyn. In those neighborhoods, the poor and working-class tenants -- those who had low incomes or who lacked a college degree -- were about 20 percent less likely to move during the 1990's than were socioeconomically similar tenants in the rest of the city.
''You've got two competing forces in a gentrifying neighborhood,'' Dr. Braconi said. ''The prices are going up, which gives low-income people an incentive to leave. But the neighborhood's getting nicer, so people have more incentive to stay. There's been an assumption by community activists that the incentive to leave is stronger, but that turns out to be wrong. You don't displace the poor. You actually slow down the process of people moving out of the neighborhood.''

If the historic district is in place, will that have the strength to prevent Penn from expanding into the neighborhood?
Penn, like any property owner, will be required to have the Historical Commission's approval before doing any work to their buildings. Also, all of the meetings of the Commission are open to the public, so the community will have a chance to see the changes proposed by a property owner and make comment.

Don't the historic district and the boundaries of the catchment area overlap?
Do you mean the catchment area of the new school? If there is an overlap it's purely coincidental. The boundaries of the proposed district reflect the historical development of the area.

In George Thomas's presentation, we noticed how many historic buildings are now owned by Penn, UCD, Restaurant School. He began by saying how designation would protect buildings from institutions. Aren't we really preserving buildings from eventual take over by Penn?
The Historical Commission does not regulate who owns a particular property.

Many of these questions address very specific situations. Without knowing the subject property's address or having photographs showing the existing conditions, it is difficult to give answers that take into account every instance that may occur on every building. If you have any follow-up questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Historical Commission directly at 215-683-4590.

The questions were grouped into broad categories. Click the category to see that group of questions and answers.

Technical | Building Permit Application Process | Designation Process
Enforcement | Tax Incentives & Economic Hardship | Impact
Neighborhood Transformation Initiative | University of Pennsylvania
Ethics | Comment
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