Thursday, March 24, 2011

Verna's Council Bill 110134 emphasizes the ethical double-standard in identity politics

Today, "A wary Point Breeze confronts its demographic shifts" appeared in the Daily News, discussing the emotionally charged debate over Bill 110134, introduced by Council President Verna, which aims to "curb gentrification" in Point Breeze (now called Newbold).

This bill is a great example of the kind of identity politics utilized by career politicians that is not only damaging to a community, but also would create an unethical and borderline racial double-standard effecting all Philadelphians.

For those who haven't reviewed the article, the bill specifies a one-year ban on construction of three-story dwellings and on any third-story additions or roof decks. Its stated purpose is "to give Council the opportunity to explore ways to preserve the uniformity of the street scape and the current scale and density of the area." in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia. On the surface, that doesn't sound so terrible. The story behind the story lies within a law that requires new homes in Philadelphia to have off-street parking, which normally means it will need to have three floors to give it the livable space necessary to raise a family in it. The bill was introduced by Verna at the request of "Concerned Citizens" president, Betty Beaufort, who said that the ongoing development in the neighborhood "is profit over people."

"This is causing gentrification, and people are beginning to stress and worry if they will be able to live in the community where they have lived all their lives," Beaufort said. "Before we know it, they won't be able to afford to live in Point Breeze because they will be taxed out." Point Breeze, just south of Center City, is roughly bordered by Washington Avenue and Broad, Moore and 25th streets. Its main commercial thoroughfare, Point Breeze Avenue, is pockmarked with vacant buildings. The community, too, is marred by empty homes and trash-strewn lots. Crime has long been a problem, and the neighborhood has repeatedly been ranked among the city's most dangerous.

Last year, Concerned Citizens caused a stir in the area with a flyer that warned against the influx of "yuppies."

It featured two photos: One of a $300,000 home on 19th Street and another of a cluster of white patrons sitting at sidewalk tables outside the Sidecar Bar, at 22nd and Christian streets.

"This will begin removing the poor, seniors, fix and low income, working class families and minorities," the flyer said.

"This will begin removing the poor, seniors, fix and low income, working class families and minorities," the flyer said. (Emphasis is Concerned Citizens'.)

Another Concerned Citizens member, Tiffany Green, speculated during the hearing yesterday that Martin Luther King Jr. would have come down on their side.

"I was thinking about what Martin Luther King would say about three-story luxury homes being built in low-income, minority communities," she said. "Many of you celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday and pay tribute to him, but I believe if Martin Luther King was alive today that he would be advocating on behalf of low-income minorities."

What I find unethical is that our Council President can introduce a bill that is clearly based in racial undertones to block the development of one of the few Philadelphia communities that is growing in population and value. If any reader thinks that any of the discussion boards displaying heated arguments about this bill are over reactions, allow me to make our point.

I am a PROUD resident of Philadelphia, in the neighborhood bordering Kensington. Having lived in New York during the interesting years of Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani as well as working in the Southeast, Northeast, and Anacostia sections of Washington, DC; I can speak with a great deal of experience on living among the urban landscape. Therefore, I propose an honest discussion about this double-standard and the angst it causes among citizens who should be neighbors, not adversaries within a community.

As long as the following questions sit like the white elephant in the room (or in this case, the council floor), then a segment of our society responsible for producing a great deal of blood, sweat, tears, and tax revenue in the name of returning Philadelphia to greatness will continue to feel marginalized and alienated in our own communities.
  • What would happen if I created a civic "organization" like "concerned citizens" that proposes a council bill banning real estate development or zoning changes to a neighborhood where the demographic changes were reversed (i.e., an increase of African-American, Latino, or south Asian residents moving into a neighborhood)?
  • Would any career politician entertain such a bill if the color of the proponents were different?
  • If the "gentrification" label is used for when professionals develop a neighborhood, clean the streets, increase property values and lower crime; then what is the appropriate label for the many Philadelphia neighborhoods where an influx of new residents have caused a rise in urban decay and crime, causing long-term residents to relocate to the suburbs?

Just because one feels as if they have a good reason for it, doesn't make racism wrong. It's high time that ALL Philadelphians stop looking at things from a racial perspective, and start looking at things as citizens who need to come together as a collective to make our city a better place to live and work.

Remember, while us Americans continue to bicker, point fingers, and blame one another for bad blood created generations before we were born (and in many cases before our families were even living in America); millions of Chinese, Indians, and Brazilians are working hard with little to no complaints...making their countries undeniable world powers.

When are we going to wake up and start making common-sense decisions?

It is in this spirit that I ask you all, regardless of race, religion, background, sex, financial status or sexual orientation to oppose this bill and make your opposition known to your elected leaders.
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