Preserving A Sense of Place: The Preservation Alliance’s Fall Conference

November 17, 2011

By Christina Tierno (MPA '12) and Tess Mullen (MPA '13), Associate Consultants

The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia sponsored a city-wide conference, Preserving Philadelphia Neighborhoods, on October 21, 2011 at Temple University.

Fels faculty member and Senior Consultant John Kromer kicked off the event by delivering the conference’s keynote address. Drawing upon his extensive experience working in urban development, Kromer provided a valuable overview of past, present and future revitalization initiatives throughout Philadelphia. Looking ahead, Kromer said that grounding new revitalization efforts around existing assets – such as local educational institutes, civic centers or transit lines – is often one of the keys to success.

While the conference offered a very positive perspective on neighborhood preservation, it also highlighted some of the inevitable tensions between groups who work in this sphere: some are more interested in preserving the physical structure of the neighborhood and others are more interested in using the preserved physical, historical atmosphere as a tool to spur economic or other development. While these two groups absolutely have overlapping interests, their goals sometimes diverge.

This tension was highlighted in a panel discussion titled ‘Neighborhood Preservation Begins with YOU: Using Tools with Teeth.’ The panel focused on capacity building skills for individuals that would like to preserve historic buildings or create historic districts within their communities. Christina was particularly interested in this session as it focuses on grassroots movements and is relatable to the Sustainable Strategies Promising Practices report she is writing at Fels R&C.

The conflict manifested itself as a panelist discussed the creation of a historic district in his community. Regulations related to the district were being violated by longtime residents who presumably did not have the money to maintain their properties in accordance with the standards set forth by the district, thus bothering their neighbors. The tension between individual families’ finances and the community’s desire to ensure that local assets are well maintained can be difficult to resolve.

Historic preservation can be a powerful tool through which to maintain the character of a neighborhood and attract residents and businesses. However, neighbors are justified in worrying about how preservation standards and gentrification initiatives will affect long-time residents on fixed incomes.

The Preservation Alliance appeared to be well aware people’s concerns about gentrification.  In his keynote address, Kromer addressed the controversy surrounding gentrification and provided examples of how some Philadelphia developers have worked with local residents to ensure that they continue to have access to affordable housing. We hope that the Preservation Alliance will continue to explore complex issues such as preservation, gentrification, and economic development in future conferences and meetings.

Associate Consultants are graduate students at the Fels Institute of Government. In addition to their work with Fels, Associate Consultants are completing their Master of Public Administration degrees.

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