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Ridge on the Rise

14 Dec

Back in the day, Ridge Avenue was a vibrant commercial corridor. The heart and soul of North Philadelphia was also an entertainment district. The Blue Note was at Ridge and 15th Street.

Blue Note

The Bird Cage Lounge was one block up at Ridge and 16th Street. I don’t know whether it was named after him, but Charlie “Bird” Parker played there. The legendary Pearl Bailey began her singing and dancing career at the Pearl Theater, which was at Ridge and 21st Street.

Pearl Theater Collage

Some of the jazz giants who roamed Ridge likely stayed at the LaSalle Hotel, which was across from the Pearl Theater. The hotel was listed in the The Negro Motorist Green Book. The Point jazz spot at Ridge and Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore Avenue) was at the western tip of the storied “Golden Strip.”

Ridge began its steep decline in the aftermath of the 1964 Columbia Avenue race riots and construction of the Norman Blumberg Apartments public housing. Fast forward 50 years, Ridge is on the rise.

In 2014, the Philadelphia Housing Authority announced that transformation of the Blumberg/Sharswood neighborhood was its top priority. The Sharswood Blumberg Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan is a massive $500 million project that would, among other things, revitalize the Ridge Avenue corridor.

In an op-ed piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, PHA President and CEO Kelvin A. Jeremiah wrote:

The redevelopment of a community is about turning ideas into public policy and putting policy into action.

PHA’s revitalization efforts are a targeted, coordinated development model designed to maximize the economic benefits of neighborhood revitalization, not the piecemeal dispersed development model of the past. To transform communities into neighborhoods of choice, there must be good schools for every child, quality affordable housing for all families, and a vibrant small business commercial corridor. The challenge is turning the ideas and rhetoric into policy and practice.

In remarks before the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s recent conference, Marion Mollegen McFadden, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Grant Programs, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, noted a community has both tangible and intangible assets:

I see preservation’s efforts to recognize and honor the cultural heritage of minority and ethnic groups as a valuable component of strong communities, in particular many of the communities that HUD serves. And I don’t just mean preservation of buildings and places, but also of diverse cultural ties and traditions, the intangible dimensions of heritage that together enrich us as a nation.

McFadden concluded with a quote from HUD Secretary Julián Castro:

History isn’t just a subject for books and documentaries. It’s alive and well in buildings, sites, and structures that shape our communities. They tell us who we are and where we come from – and it’s critical that we protect our past for present and future generations.

The Sharswood/Blumberg Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan raises the question: Does PHA value the area’s tangible and intangible assets that give the neighborhood its identity? If so, will a transformed Ridge Avenue preserve the neighborhood’s cultural heritage for present and future generations?


28 Sep

Pope Francis’ historic visit to Philadelphia is over. As I watched the Papal Mass on TV, I was struck by Archbishop Chaput’s call:

This is a city that would change its name to Francisville today.

Philly already has a Francisville.

Francisville Sign

The historically black neighborhood is located a short walk from the Cathedral Basilica of SS Peter and Paul. On my way to the Festival of Families, I walked through Francisville. If the People’s Pope had visited his namesake, he would have seen how gentrification is unfolding in Philadelphia. Long-time black and Latino residents are being displaced.

As expected in the fourth most segregated city in the country, those moving in don’t look like those being pushed out.

4th Most Segregated City

In his homily at the private mass, the Holy Father asked:

What about you? What are you going to do?

That is indeed the question. What are city leaders going to do about the displacement of longtime residents by new residents who may not stick around when their ten-year tax abatement expires? By the way, the tax abatement only applies to new construction. So there’s a perverse incentive to demolish historic and cultural resources, including churches, murals and burial grounds.


Now that Pope Francis has left town, Mayor Michael Nutter should check himself. Rather than bask in the afterglow, he should do an after action report and explain why Philadelphia was transformed into a police state.

Security Sign v2

Days before Pope Francis even set foot in Philadelphia, the city was on lock down. City Hall, schools, libraries, courts, banks, stores, roads and bridges, train stations and Greyhound were closed.

Pope in Philly - Collage

Nutter talked a good game about showcasing the city while the world was watching. What the world saw was a ghost town patrolled by Philly police, the National Guard and other security forces. Rem Rieder of USA TODAY wrote:

It was still dark, of course, and it had the look of a war zone. There were barricades everywhere. There were security checkpoints. There were fences making some streets completely inaccessible. And everywhere there were police, and TSA agents, and all other flavors of law enforcement personnel.

Heckuva job, Mayor Nutter.

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