Urban Renewal: The Remaking of Society Hill

Urban Renewal: The Remaking of Society Hill

June 22, 2019 4 By Kailee Schamberger



in 1950 Philadelphia's oldest neighborhoods were caught in a spiral of abandonment and decay as residents flocked to the suburbs the brick row houses and crowded market places of the old city faded into the shadows of disappearing past but urban planners were reimagining cities and these historic blocks would soon become laboratories for change urban renewal was created by the federal government after the Second World War because there was a broad national consensus that our cities need help federal money coming from Washington managed locally it became a tool that city planners could use to recreate whole sections of the city city streets would be the planners canvassed the Philadelphia of the future made possible through relocation demolition rehabilitation eminent domain and money development director William rafts key made urban renewal a cornerstone of the city's political reform movement while Edmund bacon director of the City Planning Commission led the charge Philadelphia is a singular case where the City Planning Director became the face of the urban renewal movement bacon had a real gift for speaking to journalists business people understanding a different way to reach politicians and elected officials he was a real salesman and marketer but Bacon's combative approach proved controversial edie bacon was theoretically aware of communities but he said don't ask the community to generate something because they just don't know I know what ought to be urban renewal wasn't some ways the first chapter and contemporary gentrification the area becomes transformed it becomes wider because more affluent becomes more middle-class there were dynamic communities of black people working-class white folk the word and in short pushed out in the heart of Philadelphia's historic district the neighborhood of society Hill had long been the working-class backbone of the city's port named for William Penn's free society of traders it contained the city's main produce market and it bustles with the families of African American and Irish laborers Society Hill was a deteriorated neighborhood broken containers barrels full of fish and things like that were all over the place we had the Blue Anchor in which was frequented for the most part by foreign sailors including some ladies that worked the area this was not exactly pretty place Bacon's office devised a plan to transform the old neighborhood would have been very easy to have come in and torn it all down what bacon de Majan though was a combination of the new and the old we had a plan for Doc Street which we had to demolish those buildings were too far deteriorated to build high-rise apartment project to get the kind of density we thought we needed bacon selected acclaimed modern architect IM Pei to design the centerpiece of the renewal Society Hill towers which broke ground in 1963 mayor Richardson Dilworth built a home for his family a nearby Washington Square and bacon designed a network of greenways creating pedestrian pathways between streets the old philadelphia development corporation marketed the idea of living in a restored colonial village to families that had an ancestry that dated back to the colonial period the first couple of buyers we had were Jared Ingersoll his wife who was a very famous on Alvin and Henry Watts who was the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange I bought a house on Third Street people who were young like my husband and myself we moved in because we could do a lot of the houses ourselves and we built those houses we rebuilt them it was like a Vermont village everybody got together everybody knew everybody and then as it got more and more built up it became more stratified South Street Lombard Street when I was real little they were black neighborhoods by the time I got to be a teenager that was the first gentrification wave with society Hill and the blacks who lived on Lombard Street were were gone then it moved over the south street a kind of erasure city policy brokers did not consult with the very people that were being removed from their homes every day people feeling like they didn't have control or say over their lives over where they lived where they could send their kids to school many are the sins of urban renewal but society who became the model all around the country for how to revive city neighborhoods not through demolition but through preservation in the space of two decades Society Hill became one of Philadelphia's wealthiest neighborhoods at the same time Bacon's planning office guided urban renewal efforts throughout the city creating Penn Center independent small and eastwick projects that would transform Philadelphia's identity