Philadelphia has a rich history replete with stories of incredible triumph by community organizers and grassroots organizations. Grays Ferry has continued to play a key role in organizing, especially as issues of environmental injustice bubble to the surface of wider public consciousness – leaving lasting legacies of disparate health outcomes, residential segregation, and correspondingly fewer opportunities for economic mobility.
Since the nearby refinery which has marred the community for over a century has ceased operations, outside attention has turned to Grays Ferry, threatening longtime residents with residential displacement seen in other Philadelphia neighborhoods such as Graduate Hospital and Spruce Hill.
Gentrification has myriad definitions but underscores the idea that redevelopment and new investments into affordable (largely minority) communities put longtime residents at risk of being displaced by wealthier (often white) residents.
Gentrification is often marked by institutional investments into affordable neighborhoods. Recent investments in Grays Ferry include the establishment of the Pennovation Works campus, the opening of a Schuylkill River Trail entrance point, and the upcoming renovations of Vare Recreation Center using revenue from the city’s beverage tax. Proximity to these amenities remains in high demand, especially among young families from outside of the neighborhood seeking affordability as well as proximity to job centers in University City and Center City. Developers have already delivered new construction in the form of residential units in Forgotten Bottom and along Federal Street, signaling that gentrification and subsequent displacement threatens much of Grays Ferry.
While the mechanisms behind neighborhood change may vary, communities should be equipped with the necessary tools to fight back against unwanted change, rising rents, and cultural shifts that threaten their quality of life and access to necessary goods and services. The aim of this plan for advocacy is to propose a suite of tools and advocacy positions that community organizations can use at will to become actors who shape change in their neighborhoods. These tools also ensure that benefits of private and institutional investments are enjoyed by longtime residents who have contributed over many decades to Grays Ferry’s community fabric.