Millennials: Looking to the Northeast for clues about civic engagement

Above: Children play at the Tip Top Playground in Northern Liberties.

Pipeline Philly, a coworking space in Center City, is playfully stylish. The conference room overlooks City Hall and in the finished kitchen, the chrome of the espresso maker reflects the accent colored red bar stools. A weathered brown leather punching bag hangs from the ceiling and Chris Krewson, the editor of Billy Penn, encourages everyone to have some hummus before settling in for “The State of the City: A Conversation with the Pew Charitable Trusts,” an event hosted on April 7th by Billy Penn.

“There are two futures being written for Philadelphia right now. One of them is being written in Center City. The other is being written in the Northeast,” says writer and journalist Sandy Smith to the gathered crowd.

The event was planned to discuss key findings from PEW’s annual assessment of Philadelphia, with a specific focus on “what the numbers say about the city’s strengths and its challenges for millennials.”

Pipeline is painstakingly hip, but the men and women gathered for the event are slightly older than the environment would suggest. As the discussion made the quick loop from ‘What are the millennials doing here?’ to ‘Will they stay?’ it became clear that this event was about the millennials, not necessarily for them.

According to the Pew study, 54 percent of millennials consider Philadelphia “an excellent or good place to live,” which makes sense. Philadelphia was recently ranked #3 on The New York Times list of best places to visit in 2015. The population is booming, as is tourism, but things that bring tourists to Philadelphia don’t necessarily encourage young people to stay and raise families.

Smith, a Harvard grad, who occasionally writes for Hidden City Daily and Phillymag.com says, “I think something none of us are thinking about – and the planners and builders of Auto Age suburbs certainly didn’t – are neighborhoods that can accommodate people at all life stages.”

Northern Liberties, a neighborhood just outside Center City, nestled between Fishtown and Fairmount, has a population made up of between 30 and 40 percent millennials. The dog parks, restaurants, boutique shops, and small, pricey Piazza apartments are targeted at this demographic. On the corner of West Allen Street and Hope Street, is one of the neighborhood’s few child friendly areas, Tip Top playground. Children occasionally swing on the dilapidated swing set. The area is very popular, however, with dog owners, who let their dogs off leash to play fetch in the hockey rink, and jazz bands practicing for the Mummers parade.

According to Pew, “only 36 percent of millennials said they would recommend the city as a place to raise children, while 56 percent would not. With many young adults starting to raise families or thinking about doing so, this view is a not a positive sign.”

Children plan in the Sister Cities Fountain on the Ben Franklin Parkway
Children plan in the Sister Cities Fountain on the Ben Franklin Parkway

What could be a positive sign, however, is the redevelopment of certain areas of the city, aiming to make green spaces more family friendly. Logan Square, a historic area located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, recently revamped the Sister Cities Park.

On one of the first warm days on spring, small children dart through the fountains, wade in the boat pond, and form an impatient line in front of the pop-up Rita’s Water Ice stand. The Free Library of Philadelphia, only a block away, has set up an outdoor children’s library by the Logan Square Café and parents sit in the grass, reading to their children.

When, though, does this become a community, rather than a weekend attraction? This is the test that Center City desperately needs to pass. With more and more green areas cropping up, it’s clear that this development is aimed at encouraging people to put down roots. Once rooted, it may be more difficult, or less appealing, to move away.

“You think about New York City,” says Dr. Judith Stull, a sociologist who teaches at both Temple University and LaSalle University. “Manhattan is the place to be if you can afford it, but if you can’t afford it you go to Brooklyn. It’s economic in terms of how much housing can you afford. If you want a big house but you can’t afford the schooling then you go to the suburbs. On average, the suburbs do a better job.”

Safer neighborhoods, better schools, and more space rank high on the list of motiving factors to leave the city. What the millennials are asking for, although not in so many words, is a sense of community. Despite efforts within Center City to establish this sense, it’s already established farther out, in Northeast Philadelphia.

In Burlhome, Marian Fruehwald is the neighborhood cookie mom. A Girl Scout leader for the past fifteen years, she started when her oldest daughter, Kate, was in the second grade. Her husband, Franz, is a Boy Scout leader, continuing even after both of their sons were grown. They met as undergrads at LaSalle University and raised their children not far from where they grew up. Their involvement in the Scouts, as well as other aspects of the community, have kept them from moving, even after their youngest daughter left for college.

“Once in, if we run a good program, they usually stay,” Mrs. Fruehwald says of her troop. “We have six high schoolers at present. We do deal with girls who have multiple activities. It is ok to miss meetings for practices, rehearsal or homework; that is a fact of life. These days we keep in contact with the girls about what we are working on, so it is their option to keep up. Our program is girl driven. We had years where all the girls wanted to do was crafts so that is what we did. There have been times when they wanted to go places, so that is what we did. They are always interested in eating! If you do what they are interested in they stay.”

This seems to be the tact that groups and organizations in Center City are currently trying. Keeping millennials interested may keep them stationary. The Northeast has certainly seen success in this, with their longstanding religious and social affiliations rooting people to their communities.

The Fruehwalds, like their neighbors, are active members of the parish. Mr. Fruehwald is Eucharistic minister and brings communion to home-bound members of the community. He also teaches Sunday school classes at St. Cecilia’s Church, one of the largest and most successful parishes in the Northeast. While other Catholic schools are combining, St. Cecilia’s has no trouble filling pews and classrooms.

The Fruehwald’s sit in the same row every Sunday, Blessed Mother side, in front of the Baptismal font. Certain families, ones that have put all of their children through the same school and have deep ties to the area, all seem to have their own pew, unofficially reserved. Mr. Fruehwald, recognizable in his signature beret, walks their manically friendly golden retriever, Daisy, twice a day, and uses this time to keep up to date with the neighbors, people he has known for almost twenty years.

Half of the 20- to 34-year-olds questioned in a recent Pew study said that they didn’t see themselves staying in Philadelphia for more than five to ten years. According to the study, “The millennials cited job and career reasons, school and child-rearing concerns, and crime and public safety as the primary reasons for their potential departures.”

Fred Moore, a member of the Northeast Philadelphia History Network, says, “It seems pretty rare that any community in the metropolitan area stays together long enough to form a tight social fabric.” A tight social fabric is exactly what keeps people tied to the Northeast neighborhoods, and it’s something Center City is trying to replicate.

The Petco Unleashed at 2nd and Girard is having a ‘Paw Art’ event – bring your pet and use their paws and some paint to create an 8” x 10” painting. The Raven Society, an offshoot of the Free Library of Philadelphia geared towards millennials, is hosting a Rooftop Biergarten on May 18th. Indego recently put a bike station at 2nd and Germantown Avenue, part of their initiative to bring bike shares to Philadelphia. The stocky blue bikes are more likely to be spotted being ridden than parked in their stations. Log-on to Philly MeetUp and find groups for everything from pickleball enthusiasts and mommy and me outings, to a knitting group near you.

Philly MeetUp, the Raven Society, and Young Involved Professionals are only a few of the groups in Center City that are based on fostering civic and community involvement in the millennial population.

Rachel Mancini, an events coordinator at Al Dia, Philadelphia’s Latino-focused news organization, says that they are “invested in making sure that young students and individuals feel compelled to stay in Philadelphia.”

They’re gearing up to host an event called the Diversity Career Fair on Thursday, May 19th in The Hub Commerce Square. This event will feature a resume station, a LinkedIn headshot booth, and a networking luncheon. One of the scheduled speakers, Max Conaboy of YIP, will be speaking about millennial involvement in the city.

“Millennials are actually are the core of our Career Fair. We’ve been targeting college-aged students and young professionals in our outreach and promotions. All of the speakers and workshops were conceived with younger career seekers in mind. Our events – and editorial content for that matter in our newspaper AL DÍA News and our website aldianews.com – seek to capture the next generation. There is definitely a substantial movement happening here in Philadelphia to build the foundation for young people to stay and remain involved in this city,” Mancini says.

With all of this effort directed at keeping millennials in the city, could it be possible that the next wave of flight to the suburbs will be small one? Can young people be tempted to stay in the city limits?

“They never have,” says Dr. Stull. “The gentrification cycle, the movement is continuously moving outwards. You have Center City, and then you have the zone of transition – it’s changing but it hasn’t changed.”

Therein lies the problem. While great improvements have been made to the infrastructure of the city, it’s just not enough to make much of a difference. Instead of staying to fix a broken system – like the school system – millennials are choosing to move to areas that already have the established services they need.

“The public school system does a better job than private schools but what you have in the city of Philadelphia, unfortunately, is this vast underclass that’s been left behind so people don’t have faith in the public school system,” says Stull.

“You learn from history. It just reprises itself in slightly different forms, with a slightly different constellation. It’s already happened in different ways in other times. As the city boundaries change, what is suburb and what is city, by definition, changes. There’s an inevitable press to move further out, where you get space and where you get schools.”

While the Pew studies find that “the millennials’ affection for Philadelphia is conditional. And for the city, the stakes in meeting those conditions are very high.” It’s safe to say that efforts are being made. Only time will tell, however, if those efforts prove fruitful.

A child runs through the parking lot at St. Cecilia’s Church in Northeast Philadelphia.
A child runs through the parking lot at St. Cecilia’s Church in Northeast Philadelphia.

– Text and images by By Alexandria Peachey.

African-American activists discuss mayoral election

Hip-hop artist and activist Pili X, and poet and activist Malik Amari share their thoughts on what they want from Philadelphia’s next mayor. Primary elections are scheduled for May 19th. Reporting from Temple University: Terrence Oliver.

Grays Ferry Wants Change From New Mayor

“They need to do something for the kids in this area,” Joe Finnegan said. “They don’t have anything to do. There need to be more playgrounds and after school programs. There has to be jobs for these young kids coming out of high school as well. With all this crime, parents have to be more responsible for their kids, then there wouldn’t be as many of these problems.”

The impact that the next mayor of Philadelphia will have on the city will be felt heavily by neighborhoods that are under-serviced. One such place is Grays Ferry, located in South Philadelphia. This once stable, Irish-Catholic community has been marred by racial tensions, crime and economic despair since the 1970’s.

This hardship is still felt in the present day. Lifetime resident Dave Renna remembered better times.

“This neighborhood used to be nice,” Renna said. “You had so many corner stores, a bakery right down the street, stuff like that. Everybody knew each other and watched each other’s back.”

Renna also highlighted the policies that have affected the residents economically.

“We need to get money back in the neighborhood,” Renna said. “(Mayor) Nutter’s trying to get funding in too many different ways. I’m a smoker, and he put a two-dollar tax on the cigarettes. I pay school taxes, and he’s hurting everyday people economically. Why should we suffer?”

Despite these complaints on the current city administration, there is hope from the Grays Ferry community that changes could come from a new mayor. The favorite candidate throughout the neighborhood seems to be former Philadelphia City Councilman James Kenney. Lifetime neighborhood resident Carroll McCollum weighed in on why Kenney has garnered the support.

“He has the support of the fireman, cops and teachers,” McCollum said. “I think he would be the best for the whole city, not just Grays Ferry. We need a mayor that’s going to stand up and say, ‘let’s be a city again’.”

Similar to Renna, McCollum has complaints with the current administration.

“Nutter’s more concerned about his image than anything else,” McCollum said. “He’s handcuffed in certain areas, but in some situations, like the education funding, a better job could be done. Now people around here have to send their kids to Catholic schools that cost ten thousand-dollars-per-year.”

Another prevalent issue for the residents of Grays Ferry is housing. The residents mentioned that the University of Pennsylvania, located directly across the Schuylkill River from the neighborhood has promised for years to expand. In theory, this would allow infrastructure to be improved, and have prospective homebuyers congregate to Grays Ferry.

Finnegan, a former resident of the community, commented on the importance of this issue.

“We’ve been ignored for a long time,” Finnegan said. “There’s Section 8 housing, absentee landlords all over the place. They don’t fix the properties, they all fall apart and then the tenants don’t have the money needed to fix it up themselves. If Penn follows through with what they’ve been saying for years, then hopefully that could mark an improvement.”

With the crime prevalent in the neighborhood, Finnegan also believes that it is important to keep the youth occupied in productive ways. He noted that doing
this would benefit younger people in the community. As a new father in the city, he wants it for his own family, and others in the same situation.

Ultimately, the new mayor of Philadelphia will have to make policies for the entire city, and not just the community of Grays Ferry. What these residents of the neighborhood highlighted, showed the concern that they have for the preservation of their home. Whether change will come or not, it is equally important that people like this care about where they live. That is the first step.

– Text and image by Patrick Smith.

Mantua: Residents, Business Owners Hope for More Progress With New Mayor

With Philadelphia’s primary election creeping up in May, the city is already prepping for a new mayor to take the reins from Mayor Michael Nutter, and many are talking about what changes they would like to see.

In the West Philadelphia neighborhood of Mantua and the Lancaster Avenue corridor, students, residents and small-business owners are thinking about how employment and a rebuilding of the community could work toward reducing crime rates.

Center City skyscrapers can be seen from the edge of Mantua where a "Bulbs Not Bullets" community sign welcomes visitors.
Center City skyscrapers can be seen from the edge of Mantua where a “Bulbs Not Bullets” community sign welcomes visitors.

Danielle Green, owner and founder of Indigo Bleu, an art and culture center at 39th Street and Lancaster Avenue, is happy with the progress being made in Mantua. But she – along with residents Shaka Draper and Larry Bryant – all realize that more progress needs to be made.

– Text, videos and photos by Chelsea Lacey-Mabe and Lera Salmon

Kensington: What Do You Want From The Next Mayor?

With the Philadelphia mayoral election coming up, each section of the city has its own concerns and expectations about which candidate will take on the title.

Philadelphia’s diversity shines through in many cases; however, elections do not tend to be one of those times. The city is primarily Democratic, which has been displayed in that the elected mayor has been a Democrat since the early 1950s. This Democratic streak is not expected to be broken this fall.

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John O’Connell, a valet attendant in the city, was not optimistic about the area of Kensington being taken care of.

“If you want my honest opinion, unless the new mayor is tough on crime I don’t see there being any change down here,” O’Connell said. “I know that City Hall doesn’t really care about this region of the city.”

One candidate, Anthony Williams, has said he hopes to focus on areas like Kensington, however. On his campaign website, Williams states that he finds it necessary to increase neighborhood events. O’Connell said that Kensington could “absolutely” benefit from these types of festivities.

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Jessica Duval, a registered nurse, said the mayor should work more closely with police officers.

“I’d like to see the mayor work more closely with police officers to clean up the streets,” Duval said. “I want to see more police on the ground in my neighborhood rather than just patrolling.”

Each of the running candidates plans to focus on the schooling system in Philadelphia, which is a topic that weighs heavily on those in Kensington.

“With all of the things that have happened with the Philadelphia education system, I’m hoping for some stability,” Duval said. “I feel like, in Kensington, the schools aren’t that great. So I’d hope that the mayor would work on fiscal policies and would put more money back into the schools.”

The area of Kensington is highly Latino populated, meaning that candidate Nelson Diaz could inspire many. Diaz, the first Puerto Rican to graduate from Temple University‘s Beasley School of Law, already has expectations set for him.

“I feel like a Latino mayor would focus more on bringing health care into the community,” Duval said. “It seems like a lot of the Latino community has limited resources for health care, so I’d like to see a Latino mayor bring in more free and Spanish-speaking clinics so that our families can get better health care and more ways to keep our families healthy.”

Duval went on to say: “I’d be in favor of Diaz but, as a female, I would like to see Lynne Abraham get into office. It would set a good example for women that says that we can achieve things.”

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Lynne Abraham recently made waves by announcing that she is in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana in Philadelphia. Marijuana is currently decriminalized here, however, and citizens did not believe that a new mayor would have much of a say in changing that.

“If the new mayor isn’t on board, I don’t think it’ll cause all that much of an issue,” O’Connell said. “The new mayor could butt heads with City Council, but I think it’s pretty much here to stay. It’s probably making police officers’ lives a lot easier.”

O’Connell backs former city Councilman James Kenney, the candidate who sponsored the bill that decriminalized marijuana.

O’Connell excitedly expressed his support by saying, “Kenney all the way!”

– Text and photos by Sabrina Iglesias and Clayton Russell

Strawberry Mansion: Residents Discuss Issues They Want Next Mayor to Address

Strawberry Mansion residents shared their concerns about the upcoming 2015 mayoral primary, and the impact a new mayor might have on the community.

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Many residents focused on the quality of education in the area, as well as community development, from broken sidewalks to abandoned houses.

Although some residents were unsure of the current candidates and where they stand on the issues, most were happy with the last eight years of leadership from Mayor Michael Nutter.

Nutter will have finished serving the maximum of two terms as mayor later this year, therefore opening up what has traditionally been a Democratic seat.

– Text, images and video by Robert Kennedy and Evan Little

Strawberry Mansion residents voice concerns for Next Mayor

Blight, education and community development are on the minds of residents as the mayoral election approaches. Reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods: Robert Kennedy at Temple University.