New York Times eyes S. Philly gentrification. How are new arrivals blending?

As part of a national roundup on how cities are dealing with gentrification, the New York Times honed in on our fair city, specifically our fair neighborhood:

Rene Goodwin, who lives in the same South Philadelphia neighborhood her grandparents lived in during the 1920s, has seen the value of her home rise to $281,000 from $90,000 in a single year.

“To keep an urban area vital, there has to be an infusion of new people and buildings, but that doesn’t mean you destroy people who have kept up the neighborhood, who’ve swept the sidewalk,” she said. “It’s that commitment that has made developers interested in the neighborhood — and then you’re going to penalize the people who’ve stayed?”

Pic of Renee Goodwin by Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times
Pic of Renee Goodwin by Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

The story also discussed the city’s LOOP property tax program for longtime homeowners and the homestead exemption that was part of the new AVI system. Here’s one sad little nugget of the story:

Jacy Webster, 56, who lives on what had until recently been an Italian-American block in South Philadelphia, said he had come to feel like a stranger. The new arrivals, mostly young families, seem to move a step faster than he does or to not see him. Old courtesies like waving hello and casual chats have become rare.

“I don’t belong anymore,” he said.

So, to all you newcomers out there, do you feel like you engage with the longtimers? What about the longtimers, how do you like your new neighbors?

44 thoughts on “New York Times eyes S. Philly gentrification. How are new arrivals blending?

  • March 4, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Ugh. You think the Gray Lady would be better than this. The VALUE of Ms. Goodwin’s home must certainly did not rise $90K to $280K in on year. The ASSESSMENT of that value did.

    • March 4, 2014 at 11:21 am

      I was thinking the same thing.

      The value of her home surely rose, perhaps at dollar amounts close to that assessment. But that rise in value happened over a long period, meaning she was underpaying her taxes for many years, just like many of her neighbors.

  • March 4, 2014 at 11:12 am

    I’ve been living in East Passyunk for about 8 years now and I still get glares from the lifers who really don’t seem to want new blood in the neighborhood. So the “old courtesies” may happen from lifer-to-lifer, but if you are under 40 you get the feeling you are not welcome.

  • March 4, 2014 at 11:14 am

    I’m a recent homeowner in S.Philly and would argue the old timers tend to be unfriendly, not the newcomers. In fact I’ve had new neighbors actually make an effort to chat, whereas the old timers walk right by without so much as a glance.

  • March 4, 2014 at 11:27 am

    I’ve found varying things happen, it depends on the block. I’ve lived in a few on East Passyunk.

    Some of the “lifers” are very friendly, and some are very suspicious of new people. There’s usually a breaking in period. Homeowners get a quicker break, since it’s less likely you’re passing through.

    Some of them won’t even look your way, when you’re trying to get their attention. But I’ve had that turn around, and they became friendly neighbors after a while. It just took a few years! Its kind of up to us “new people” (18 years in Philly so far…) to make the effort.

    It really is different on each block. Try talking to the neighbors before you buy or rent on that block. It’ll give you an idea pretty quickly.

  • March 4, 2014 at 11:28 am

    I can back up what others have said about the lifers. I’ve been called a f**got for just walking down the street and offering a friendly smile.

  • March 4, 2014 at 11:28 am

    I prefer my longtimer neighbors. I’ve only lived in the neighborhood for four years, but I feel like it’s losing some of the charm that brought me here – namely the Italian-Amercian community that kept the neighborhood strong for so long. Meanwhile, the people who are new (newer than I) and/or rent – I never see them, they take very little, if no, pride in their home or their street

    I do love a lot of the new things and people that have come – but I think we should all remember the people who built and maintained the neighborhood and maybe try to keep some of that spirit and culture. Because I don’t really feel like Passyunk has been “gentrified” so much as “reinvigorated.”

  • March 4, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Oscar the grouch natives can all leave. Miserable life sucks mentality has got to go. I have been in my house for almost 3 years, there are people on the block that just refuse to smile or say hello. Once the trash is priced out by AVI, finally this part of the city can evolve faster.

    • March 4, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      Your post makes you sound like one of the grouches.

      Honestly, I think it all depends where you live. I’ve been in South Philly 30+ years and in the Passyunk Ave area for the last 12. My first house in Passyunk had some great neighbors and some bad ones. My one direct nextdoor neighbor was terrible. Didn’t keep up with her house, issues with rodents, and floods from her non-existent drains; completely unfriendly.

      Where I’m at now we have good people but bad as well, a mix of new and old. All depends on the person and their mindset.

    • March 5, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      The natives can all go huh?

      I think we (my generation)/they (my parents’ generation, should be given all the slack they require to get used to the infusion of newcomers!

      When all the REAL “life sucks mentality” people moved to gated neighborhoods in Jersey during the “white flight” years from the late 70″s-late 90’s, we endured! We did our best to maintain the block, shovel an old lady’s snow, paint over graffiti on abandoned buildings, kept the doors open to some of the businesses that anchored South Philly’s good name and culture, and made it appealing to the long overdue newcomers…

      Yes.. Some of the old heads are too bewildered by all the sudden change for the better that they once thought would never come.. Some of the old timers are now just trying to cope with the evil parking authority coming through their blocks now and writing tickets where they never ticketed before.. Some of the change has undeniably created some uncertainty for the long time natives that they just couldn’t foresee..

      A little bit more PATIENCE and UNDERSTANDING is needed on both sides I suspect. But we can do without INGRATES throwing stones at the people who kept South Philly from becoming more like South-West Philly over the years…

  • March 4, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    I have been in South Phila. for 11 years now and bought a house in 2011.
    It’s a mix. I don’t know if it’s a long term resident vs. newer resident thing- I think some of these guys are really just miserable people. Some of them are kind and charming.
    I think it’s good for the long-term residents to get to know us- many conversations I have shock me- these guys have no idea about the amazing shopping and food at their fingertips. They keep going to the same haunts- that’s good, but mix it up a little!
    There’s more to life than chicken cutlets and the shore.
    Also, I see people that have lived here forever toss garbage in the street just like I see others sweeping.
    Let’s not forget who I see not picking up after their dogs.
    I participate in the Civic Assoc. street cleaning and it’s almost 100% newer residents and the high school kids.
    Every “new” resident I know actively improves their property, shovels, helps out neighbors and is very friendly (myself included).
    I love that I feel basically safe in my neighborhood, and I have the long-timers (the ones that don’t have their junkie kids living with them) to thank for that.
    I think if EVERYONE pitched in a little, we could really clean the place up- garbage, dog poop, and junkies.
    It’s a mistake to divide us. There’s not just two kinds of people in the area. If we welcome everyone, maybe they would want to make their neighborhood a better place.
    saying “they’re not like us” is just an excuse to stay miserable.

    • March 4, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      Agreed, B. You nailed it.

    • March 4, 2014 at 3:53 pm


  • March 4, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    We moved into the East Passyunk Crossing area 23 years ago and love it. We also very Happy to see the younger people move in and the “gentrification” take place. Our house valeu has quadrupled. There is resistant from the older Italian community to accept change but the change is going to happen anyway. The area is growing and growing for the better.

  • March 4, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    I’ve been in South Philly for 6 years. I don’t think the old timers have been unfriendly, but they haven’t been especially friendly either. Instead of welcoming me to the neighborhood, they seem to have expected me to reach out to them. I’m not complaining. I don’t expect anything from them, but they keep to themselves as much as we do.

  • March 4, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Ive experienced both from old timers, from the friendly to the miserable. However all the new arrivals are friendly and civically engaged.

  • March 4, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    I totally agree with everybody that it’s a mix. We bought our house six and a half years ago and I am so in love with our neighborhood and our block in particular. I love the idea of having a lifers around, and I’m probably more likely to say hello to the older folks than the younger people, probably because the younger people do seem less friendly, even to each other. Of course, my husband and I tend to be on the shy side, so I’ll be the first to admit we probably don’t come off as the friendliest neighbors (block party day is the most awkward day of the year for us). But I agree, younger/newer people in general seem to be hesitant to be open and friendly for some reason. That being said, they definitely pick up after their dogs more and seem to take care of their properties more consistently. And we’ve had problems on our block with lifers whose kids live at home and deal drugs on the block (resulting in two shootings). I’m not gonna lie, I was happy when those people were finally driven out. I think the image of the salt-of-the-earth South Philly lifer sweeping up their street and waving to everyone isn’t always accurate.

    I am always a little bummed when I see $500k houses going up for sale, because sure, it’s good for my house value, but I’d honestly rather have normal middle class neighbors. And let’s face it, the new people moving in aren’t going to grab a baseball bat and head outside when they hear trouble.

  • March 4, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    I’ve forced the lifers to get used to me. sweeping the sidewalk, shoveling their snow, picking up trash, helping them carry groceries. All things you do for neighbors. it helps if you get your nose out of your phone and take out your earbuds–but that’s just general socializing manners (which both old and new can lack). It’s the “lifers” that made it such an attractive neighborhood. hope us “newbies” can continue the charm.

    • March 5, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      Earbuds, nose in the phone, sunglasses and earbuds in an attempt to not notice the friendly wave or attempt at eye contact from anyone on the peripheral… These are things that should annoy people the most.. Lifers or not… Its so anti-social and snobby.

  • March 4, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    I’ve lived in various parts of South Philly and Hawthorne for the past 6 years.

    Neighbours on my block down near Pats & Genos hated us, but we were two young gals who threw a few parties every now and again (always on a weekend!). That street had a lot of tension between newer homeowners who fixed up their houses and the long-time residents.

    Neighbours on my block in Hawthorne near Le Viet were much less visible and active on the street – no new-timers talked to us but we made friends with a few of the real old-timers. People in general were less friendly in that neighbourhood.

    Now my fiance and I live in LoMo and we couldn’t be more pleased with our neighbours. They’re pretty much all old-timers with some younger families who have moved to the block in more recent years. With few exceptions they are all fantastic neighbours- friendly, take good care of the street, don’t save parking spots, always happy to stop and chat at your stoop. I’ll be really sad to move but unfortunately parking is a big issue for us and we need a dedicated spot at our next place.

  • March 4, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    S.philly was/is(in some areas) very insular up until maybe 20 years ago. As an italian american it is sad to see our culture/ stores close and fade after 100 years in certain areas. I know nothing stays the same and everything changes but for some that change is harder to accept.

  • March 4, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Bought a house in east passyunk about 2 years ago, and it’s definitely a mixed bag. Generally speaking, on my block the older residents who have been there a loooong time are friendly and take care of their properties. It’s the the middle-aged to younger residents that have long standing family roots on my block that are problem makers. I know that some of my older neighbors are concerned when houses go up for sale because they’re just afraid of the unknown factor that will be moving in.

    Regarding the resentment towards newcomers due to rising home values and skyrocketing property taxes: I totally get it. But they need to call the City and point the finger at them, not blame gentrification. Property taxes should be reassessed every couple years, not every several decades, and the increase wouldn’t be such a shock to the longtimers if the City had a handle on property values in the first place.

    • March 4, 2014 at 4:54 pm

      We are in the same situation on our block SC. Purchased our first home in East Passyunk 2 years ago. We get along well with our older neighbors and do what we can to help them such as shovel, sweep, and help with house repairs. But we have middle aged families whose adult children live in the homes as well (I don’t know how they all fit). They are into drugs and keep shady company. Just a few bad seeds. Overall we love the neighborhood but I would say most of my neighbors keep to themselves. It’s a bummer because we have never hung out and had a beer with any of our neigbors since we have lived here. We were looking forward to making some new friends.

  • March 4, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Who is new & who is long time resident is relative. Folks who newly arrive after me seem to scoop me in with the long time residents although I bought 10 years ago. When I express friendliness by making small talk or saying hello I usually receive looks that say “can’t you see I am wearing earphones?” or they ignore me. Sometimes I think the new-newcomers come from communities where folks did not speak to each other (‘burbs). For some of the new folks I get the sense it is their first time living in the city and find speaking to a stranger frightening even in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon. Newcomers can enhance relationships with long time residents by simply shoveling their sidewalk when it snows and sweeping up in front of the house once and a while. These small gestures really impress long time residents.

    • March 5, 2014 at 10:28 pm

      If you say Columbus Boulevard instead of Delaware Avenue.. You’re new…

      If you say you live in Newbold or Pennsport instead of South Philly followed by the street corner you live closest to, you’re new…

      • March 6, 2014 at 1:53 pm

        Who cares? So if you’ve starting living in South Philly after 1992 youre new?
        And Pennsporters has have been proudly saying they live in pennsport for 50 years ya moron

        • March 6, 2014 at 9:09 pm

          It wasn’t an insult.. And shouldn’t have been responded to as such.. Its just an identifying factor… And maybe some “Pennsporters” have said that.. But seriously.. You get the point of what I’m saying. I’m not trying to take away your cute little sub-neighborhood naming rights cuz… Chillax friend..

        • March 6, 2014 at 9:11 pm

          Did they say “EPX” 50 years ago too?

          • March 11, 2014 at 10:46 am

            It’s a wrong identifying factor. There is history in some names and no history in others.
            Question. Is saying “your cute little sub-neighborhood naming rights” an insult? Because it sounds like it.
            Don’t put up comments that “identify” people and then get offended when people don’t like being identified.

            I don’t know what EPX means

  • March 4, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    My wife and I bought our house in EPX just about a year ago, and honestly, we couldn’t be happier. Are there older residents who refuse to recognize us? Sure. But there’s a lot more who have been outgoing, friendly, helpful, and, well, downright neighborly. I remember being under the microscope on move-in day as everyone watched from their windows, but not two days later my neighbor across the street came and introduced himself and his wife to my wife and myself, pointing out that he plays guitar as well. As time goes on, I’m sure we’ll get to know our other neighbors better as well.

    There is a downside to gentrification, though, and it’s not just increased taxes. We moved from the Gray’s Ferry/Graduate Hospital area, an area I lived in for roughly 15 years, and frankly we couldn’t have left at a better time. As wealthier families moved in, it has become harder to open diverse businesses, whereas when it was a more dynamic population, great things were happening. Conversations with neighbors pretty much stopped happening altogether, and crime increased as fewer people walked or engaged in the neighborhood (most drove, especially the Naval Home residents), and getting new residents to engage in civil programs like neighborhood watch was borderline impossible. I don’t think anyone wants to see that happen to what, in my opinion, is the most diverse and eclectic neighborhood in the city right now.

  • March 4, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    Moved to East Passyunk 3 years ago after a short stint in Southampton, Bucks County. I live on a very narrow block and was warned by a South Philly native co-worker to be prepared that “everyone will know your business.” I’ve had good neighbors and bad—some old-timers, some newbies like me. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Just when I start to fume over a neighbor parking like a jerk someone shovels my walk for me because they know I’m probably working a 12-hour shift and will be tired when I get home. I want to get angry at the young guys renting the house across the street when they get a little loud–but I grin from ear to ear when the party is on a Sunday afternoon and the noise is them singing the Eagles fight song at the top of their lungs. I love that several of us neighbors care for two local (docile) street cats–food, water, a safe place to sleep and the occasional vet visit. Warts and all, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

  • March 5, 2014 at 12:41 am

    Love this thread. First to admit I could have been doing a better job over the past six years getting to know the people on my block. Have done what I could to get to know fellow neighborhood dwellers through involvement in the civic association and the South Philly Food Co-op but haven’t been as good with getting to know my most immediate neighbors. Always felt like it would have been cool if they could have stopped by to welcome us. Then, as five new neighbors moved into houses on my side of the street and I haven’t made the effort to welcome them, I gave up that notion. Some people will do that… I just happen to live on a block where no one does… including me.

    What has been great for meeting the neighbors is the snow. I’ve met two people who have lived on the block for a long time by helping to shovel snow from in front of other houses (both of whom asked me if I just moved in and were surprised when I said I’ve lived in my house since ’08!). So I completely agree with everyone who suggests that the newcomers get outside and sweep the sidewalk or shovel the snow. Heck… sweep the whole block… that’ll get noticed really quickly!

    P.S. Also appreciate being on a #NoSavies block. Haven’t seen a cone, chair or crate saving a spot in 6 years!

    P.P.S. Caught that little dig on “‘burbs” in a comment above. Grew up on a street in the burbs and have to say my experience as a kid in the 80s couldn’t be any further from that. All the families knew and talked to each other… went to barbecues at each other’s houses… did block parties. The difference between then and now is that the kids (6-10 year olds) became friends which gave the parents a natural point of contact and introduction while their kids were playing together. As the South Philly “baby boom” continues, the same thing could happen here.

  • March 5, 2014 at 8:49 am

    FWIW I live on the eastern edge of Passyunk Square and while it has obviously historically been Italian, it’s such a mix now of asian and latino families, younger folks, and old-timers that the general impression I got from neighbors when I moved in fairly recently was “whatever”.

    And unfortunately my Leave it to Beaver fantasy of neighbors bringing me a pie to welcome me did not come true. But, once I made an effort to reach out to the older lady behind me to pick up leaves from her fig tree, she made me pizzelles for Christmas!

    • March 5, 2014 at 10:45 am

      I need a pizzelle making neighbor!!!

      • March 5, 2014 at 4:56 pm

        Yes!!! Pizzelles!!!

    • March 5, 2014 at 11:31 am

      Depending how far over you are, it was more likely to have been a Jewish neighborhood before us I-talains took over.

  • March 5, 2014 at 8:53 am

    What is it called when lifers renovate buildings, open new businesses and sell/lease properties to newcomers? The gentrifiers are a diverse group. It isn’t just newcomers that like to improve the neighborhood.

    How far into history should this discussion reach? Were not the lifers of the early 20th century upset by the influx of Italian immigrants? Were not the Indians upset by the European explorers and immigrants?

    Nostalgia for the past and denial of the present and future will cripple us. If we don’t look inward and forward then we will not find our place in the future. We will feel lost in a world that we refuse to accept.

    • March 6, 2014 at 10:34 pm

      Well said. A bit of introspection is always required to be a good neighbor, and helps to live a more enriching life in South Philly (or anywhere).

  • March 5, 2014 at 11:38 am

    I bought a house down here 5 years ago. With the exception of one nasty neighbor across the street, our neighbors have all been very nice and have never treated me poorly because I’m a “newcomer”.

    Well they really shouldn’t because I put $200k of straight cash into the wallet of the “lifer” who sold me the house!

  • March 5, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    I think people mostly welcome the newcomers to neighborhoods if they are buying a rowhome and just living their life without trying to change things too dramatically. Small changes and improvements don’t seem to be looked down upon.
    The problems arise when people come in, tear down old churches and schools, building 15 townhouses with that ugly metal clad bumpout, and park there 4 cars on the street while having a garage filled with jet skis.
    There are a few different types of “newcomers”, I think the former is accepted and welcome and the latter is looked at with disgust because, quite frankly, they should be.

    • March 7, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      Agreed! Those metal clad bumpouts are so ridiculous. And 4 cars for a house is very taxing on a neighborhood that is already become a hunting ground for the overzealous evil parking authority.. Don’t have a garage taking a parking space away from the block if they’re not gonna use it! Exactly!!

  • March 5, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    Well I’m a lifer and a Realtor in Passyunk/ east Passyunk Crossing, I love the new energy in this neighborhood and I never got a weird vibe from any newcomers , actually they are all clients and respect that I’ve been here my whole life and also work here , as far as my lifer neighbors I think they took everything in stride and now embrace the change as well…

  • March 6, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I live right on E passyunk, my lifer neighbors are as sweet as can be. But maybe that’s because I always stopp to say hello? One of my neighors would have a yard sale pretty much every weekend when the weather is nice. Stop by and see Rosalee across from Sweat— she’s got good stuff 🙂

    old school italian neighbors > pretentious hipsters wearing baby bjorns

  • March 7, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    I moved to Philadelphia in 2002 and bought a house in LoMo in 2008 on a block that was 100% lifer. I was obviously considered a gentrifier; however, over the time that I have lived on my block I have become friends with many/most of my lifer neighbors to the point where my family and I are invited to their family holiday parties, kids bdays, etc. They def don’t see me as an outsider at this point. I also got accepted a bit easier because I am from a family that is as Italian-American as my neighborhood. My advice to the gentrifiers and lifers is to be kind to your neighbors and they will be kind to you.

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