But what becomes of a “middle neighborhood”?
You know, those Wynnefields, Overbrooks and West Oak Lanes of our city, which for decades steadily trod along without the property values of Chestnut Hill and fanfare of Center City, but without the chronic wariness of say, Kensington or parts of Mantua.
They are like the not-seen middle child in the family, or the quiet gifted youth so often and so easily overlooked that his or her promise never meets the person’s potential.
Such neglect is no way to improve or unify a city.
This week, middle neighborhoods received some much needed attention, during a hearing by City Council’s Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development and the Homeless, and in response to a resolution from Councilwoman Cherrelle Parker.
Council members heard from Paul Brophy, editor of “On the Edge: America’s Middle Neighborhoods” who characterized these places as as “community areas on the edge between growth and decline. “
They also heard experts say that in Philadelphia, more than 40 percent of the city’s population lives in middle neighborhoods.
Philadelphia isn’t alone in this predicament. St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Detroit also have high percentages of such communities, according to Brophy’s research. In fact, when Congressman Dwight Evans introduced a Rehabilitation of Historic Schools Act of 2017 as part of his proposal to counter the decline of middle neighborhoods by seeking to amend federal law to allow school buildings to qualify for rehab credit, U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia introduced a companion bill in their chamber.
“We need to create incentives to make families want to stay in their neighborhoods, to give them pride in their block, their neighborhood, their community and their city,” he offered in his testimony.
Other experts called for better to access to home improvement loans to repair and improve properties.
But not all of the suggestions involved government or banking support. One expert testified that neighbors need to hold other neighbors accountable for their property and their practices, and that neighbors need to ask area businesses to reinvest in the neighborhoods they serve.
Indeed, there is much that we can do to improve our city’s low-income neighborhoods and much that we can do to better leverage the value of our high-income neighborhoods for the good of the city. But for our city, ignoring middle neighborhoods cannot and should not be an option.