Meet the nominees contending to become #NextMayorPHL

The Center for Public Interest Journalism at Temple University’s School of Media and Communication will be hosting the Next Mayor Debate at the Temple Performing Arts Center on October 19th, in partnership with Philadelphia Media Network (The Philadelphia InquirerDaily News and and The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce‘s Roadmap for Growth campaign.

murraybaileyKenney_panel2Democratic nominee Jim Kenney and Republican Melissa Murray Bailey will address issues that matter to you during this final debate, with a focus on business and economic development.

The event will be moderated by The Philadelphia Inquirer’s City Desk Editor, Chris Hepp, and business reporter, Diane Mastrull.

When: 7:30-8:30 p.m., October 19, 2015

Where: Temple Performing Arts Center, 1837 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19122

Visit to reserve your free seat now.

Additional event partners include WHYY, Committee of Seventy, WURD Radio, Young Involved Philadelphia, and Technically Philly.

Follow the Next Mayor project online now at:

And watch for election reporting from Temple University students this fall here at:

Primary election reports:

Roxborough: Young Voters Absent From Primary Polls May 20, 2015
Chinatown: Low Voter Turnout Despite Good Weather May 20, 2015
Fox Chase: Residents See Kenney as the Clear Choice May 20, 2015
Logan: Education and Crime Top Issues For Voters May 20, 2015
Primary Election Day 2015: Don’t Count Those Millennials Out Yet May 20, 2015
Who’s Got The Buck$? May 19, 2015
Public Schools Versus Charter Schools May 19, 2015
The Race to City Hall May 18, 2015
Changing landscapes: Looking to Philadelphia’s Promise Zone and University City for a way out of gentrification May 14, 2015
Students break down “The Philadelphia Budget” May 14, 2015
Millennials: Looking to the Northeast for clues about civic engagement May 13, 2015
African-American activists discuss mayoral election May 13, 2015
Small business owner struggles to keep up May 7, 2015
Zoning: How the Next Mayor Can Help Enforce the New Code May 7, 2015
Grays Ferry Wants Change From New Mayor May 7, 2015
Voters discuss poverty at Temple University April 23, 2015
Arts & Entertainment: The Next Mayor’s Impact on the Arts Community? April 22, 2015
Government: What Philadelphia’s Tax Code Means for Business April 9, 2015
Mantua: Residents, Business Owners Hope for More Progress With New Mayor April 6, 2015
Arts & Entertainment: The Race for Mayor and The Potential Impact on the Arts in Schools April 3, 2015
Germantown: Residents Want City Hall to Bring Education Back To The Neighborhood March 30, 2015
Northeast Philadelphia residents discuss education reform March 26, 2015
Kensington: What Do You Want From The Next Mayor? March 25, 2015
Philadelphia CeaseFire offers support March 24, 2015
Amateur Sports: Parks and Recreation Looking to Make the City a Better Place March 16, 2015
Strawberry Mansion: Residents Discuss Issues They Want Next Mayor to Address March 13, 2015
Politics: The Man Leading Philly’s Young Generation March 13, 2015
Northeast Philadelphia: With a New Mayor, Comes Hope for Change in Northeast Philadelphia March 12, 2015
Walnut Hill: Community Association Encourages Residents to Stand Up and Be Heard by Voting March 11, 2015
After School Program Founder Says Next Mayor Needs To Fix School Environment March 11, 2015
Next Mayor To Face Education Struggles March 11, 2015
Frankford: Residents Hope New Mayor Brings SEPTA and PPD Together March 10, 2015
Far Northeast: Residents Want a Mayor Who Cares, and Better City Services March 10, 2015
Port Richmond: A River Ward With Potential Looks Toward Mayoral Election March 9, 2015
Mantua: Residents Speak Out on Priorities for Next Mayor of Philadelphia March 9, 2015
Strawberry Mansion residents voice concerns for Next Mayor March 9, 2015
Future teacher thinks education should be top priority for Next Mayor March 9, 2015
Residents share their key issues for Next Mayor March 9, 2015
Center City professionals want Next Mayor to address education March 9, 2015
Northwest: School Funding a Major Issue in Mayor Race March 6, 2015
Hunting Park: Latino Community Sees Viable Mayor in Diaz March 5, 2015
Mantua: Residents Seek Stronger Communication with City Hall March 4, 2015
Ludlow: Ramonita de Rodriguez Library Hopes the Next Mayor Will Fight for Education March 3, 2015
Politics: Philadelphia’s Republican Party Is Determined To Make A Change March 2, 2015
Bicyclists Seek Leader to Promote Safety, Harmony on the Roads February 27, 2015
Chestnut Hill: Lynne Abraham Stresses Education as Campaign’s Top Issue February 16, 2015
Politics: Meet Philly’s Future Leaders February 16, 2015
Doug Oliver: “I Know I’m an Underdog. I Just Don’t Care.” February 10, 2015
City Hall: Al Schmidt Says, “You Don’t Have an Excuse Not to Vote.” February 9, 2015

Roxborough: Young Voters Absent From Primary Polls

It was a quiet and unusually empty afternoon in the auditorium of the polling station at Ridge Avenue and Rector Street. Located right next to the Roxborough Memorial Hospital, volunteers and poll workers were stationed outdoors and indoors, anxiously awaiting a crowd to come in and place their votes for the 2015 primary election.

Throughout the last decade, voter turnout in Philadelphia has been in steady decline. Many poll workers have noticed this recent decline and feel that young voters need to realize the importance of their opinions and come out to vote.

“I think it’s horrible because the young people don’t realize without their vote, we will get nowhere,” said Robert Fahringer, a local poll worker and voter. “We need younger people to vote for mayors who are going to change things. The only way we are going to do that is if younger people get out there and vote.”


Although the right to vote is something not to be taken for granted, local poll workers have theories as to why people, specifically young adults, feel their vote does not matter. Sylvia Myers, who will be turning 91 next month, has been working as the judge of elections for numerous elections and has seen the decline firsthand.

Myers said their busiest time at the polls was after the workday, but she still was not encouraged by the voter turnout so far.

“I have about 470 people in my division and only 32 people have come in to vote so far,” Myers said around midday. “I think people are discouraged just by the city itself. What is there has not been good. They figure, ‘I am not going to bother. ‘”


Besides the political corruption that has tainted the city’s past, there are other elements that recently discouraged people from voting. The restrictions on when a person can vote and the lack of education provided about politics are two more reasons voters opted out of voting.

“A lot of people say ‘I can’t vote because I have work,’” said Donna Howley, a poll worker at the auditorium. “I went down to New Orleans after Katrina to gut houses in the lower 9th ward and there they voted on a Saturday. “

Chris McGuigan, a poll watcher from the 26th division, stood outside the auditorium promoting the Democratic Party.

“I don’t know if younger people understand how local elections work,” McGuigan said. “I think that is something that could be given as course in school or something.”

Keith Myers, another poll watcher from the 26th division, agreed with McGuigan but thinks there is no excuse for young people not to be at the polls.

“If they want to have a say in their future, they should get here right now,” Keith Myers said.


Colleen Roberts, a volunteer for the Republican Party, thinks this problem could be solved if young people get more involved in the voting process.

“I am not very political so I can’t even say I know half the topics, but now that I’m getting into it, it’s really fascinating,” Roberts said. “It is worth it to know what’s going on.”

Many local residents of the Roxborough neighborhood, including Annie Lawlor, also agreed that young people in the area do not realize the importance of their vote.


“People don’t understand the importance of how hard it was to get a vote and what people had to go through and still have to go through in other countries,” Lawlor said. “Your rights are so important to you, and they can be taken away so easily. No matter what, if you get to vote, it’s a very precious thing.”

“They are fighting for this privilege in Europe, and here we have it, and our people are very apathetic,” Sylvia Myers said.

– Text and Images by Chelsey Hamilton and Patrick Paul.

Chinatown: Low Voter Turnout Despite Good Weather

NextMayorLogo2015With the sun shining down and a light cool breeze blowing by, it was the perfect weather condition for people to come out and vote.

Despite the good weather, voter turnout was not so good in Chinatown. There are two poll sites for Chinatown residents: the Chinese Christian Church and Center at 225 N. 10th St. and Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School at 1023 Callowhill St.

By noon, there were minimal voters coming out of the first poll site and at the second site, there were even fewer.

Samuel Yeck, a registered Democrat, walked out of the Chinese Christian Church and Center in his yellow sweatshirt and off-black jeans, proudly wearing his “I voted” sticker. He stood with his cane, leaning against the brick wall and explained how there is low voter turnout due to language barriers and people’s apathy to vote.

He stressed on the importance of not telling people who to vote for, but to show them names and pictures.

Even though the turnout was low, people in the Chinatown community have already begun to recognize the importance of voting.IMG_8681

– Text, images and video by Yuxuan Jia and Shan Chang.

Fox Chase: Residents See Kenney as the Clear Choice

Across Fox Chase, voters were out and about before the polls opened for the 2015 mayoral primary on Tuesday at 8:00 a.m.

While Republican city council candidates such as Matt Wolfe (pictured below in suit, with Jim Kimenour, a Democratic vice chairman in the 63rd Ward) could be found making their rounds and asking whether any registered Republicans had dropped by, the answer was nearly always a negative shake of the head.


In Philadelphia, where the overwhelming majority of voters are registered Democrats, the primary is virtually more important than the general election. The winner will, in all likelihood, become the next mayor of the city.

Given that a group of community leaders, elected officials and unions in the Northeast have openly endorsed Jim Kenney for mayor, it was no surprise to learn that he was the clear favorite to win in Fox Chase.

Indeed, while there were posters and signs advertising every candidate in front of polling places, only Kenney’s name appeared on the t-shirts of virtually every volunteer stationed outside.

“He’s a tough cookie,” said Kimenour. “I wouldn’t want to go up against him in a ring.”

Time and again, voters spoke of Kenney as though he were a trusted family friend rather than a candidate. Multiple people referred to him as “Jimmy,” and expressed hope that as mayor, his chief concern would be the day-to-day lives of the people living within the city.


“We’re all in this together,” said Kimenour, in response to the occasionally held belief that the Northeast is somehow separate from the remainder of the city, simply because the Fox Chase area is more quiet and suburban.

All individuals surveyed spoke of education as something that concerned them, but it was always secondary to issues like job creation and crime prevention, implying that what residents really desire is a mayor who will allow them to maintain a certain standard of living.

“I think they’re specific to the United States,” Kimenour replied when asked whether the problems that the Northeast is currently facing were specific to that area.

Kenney’s experience as a member of city council was a major advantage among people in Fox Chase, who view his experience on the council as an indicator that he is closer to an everyman than a politician, and will act accordingly.


Fred Mari (pictured in green, above), a Democratic chairman in the 63rd Ward, did not want to complain about the current members of Philadelphia government, but did express a desire for change.

“I think there are people out there, from the city, within our ranks, who would do a better job,” Mari said.

Voters were primarily concerned with crime in Fox Chase, although the crimes they spoke of were more related to vandalism than violence.

“Some parts of the city can feel like no man’s land when you drive through them,” Mari said of the current lack of police activity. “The place where I live, one side of the street is Philadelphia county and the other is Montgomery, and some mornings I come outside and just have to clean up trash off of my street before I can go anywhere.”

That sentiment was echoed by others, who feel that because the Northeast does not have the same reputation for violent crime that other parts of the city might carry and that they are sometimes ignored when it comes time to decide where police officers should go.

“I don’t want to feel like just because I know you, or don’t know you, that I’m going to get better or worse treatment,” said Kimenour.

Jeannine Roach, a volunteer in front of Memorial Presbyterian Church on Oxford Avenue, said that her primary concerns included raising the minimum wage in the city and creating more jobs. She also mentioned a crime problem.

Although she did not mention seeing any violent crime, both Roach and other volunteers at the church were quick to rattle off a list of places in Fox Chase that were common sites for drug deals, none of which, they claim, were ever addressed by police.

Roach also expressed a desire for Kenney to be the next mayor of Philadelphia.

“He’s an Irishman” said Kimenour of Kenney. “Plus, he has the support of fireman, teachers, police, and they’re all unions who are going to need to support their mayor.”

As one of the current favorites to win the primary, Kenney may be in a position to repay that support soon.

– Text and images by Alyssa Luchette and Casey Kallen.

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 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 – 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.

Zoning: How the Next Mayor Can Help Enforce the New Code

Officials in Philadelphia city government expect a certain type of person to object when a new development project comes up for public hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustment or the City Planning Commission, says Joe Schiavo, chair of the zoning committee at the Philadelphia Crosstown Coalition. And for the most part, that stereotype is grounded in experience.

For all the effort and time it takes to show up at a meeting on a weekday and wait through hearings on unrelated projects just to learn, as is often the case, that the hearing you’re interested in will be postponed, the process weeds out those whose passion can be quelled by inconvenience. The rare few who make it through the slog can come off as hysterical, fist-pounding NIMBYites, because they shout and scream, point fingers at officials and, in fact, pound their fists on tables.

Joe Schiavo is not one of these stereotypical objectors, though over the last fourteen years he has become a self-described “zoning geek” and has worked in a number of roles to preserve the character of the Old City neighborhood where he has lived and worked since 1981.

“It’s interesting that in my many attempts to reach out to city council and the mayor, about zoning issues among other things, they’ve been startled that I’ve approached them from a rational perspective. This says a lot about how they see the public,” Schiavo says.

But city government’s apparent surprise, which might offend some, hasn’t changed Schiavo’s approach.

At a recent meeting of the Philadelphia Crosstown Coalition, which represents 19 neighborhood civic groups from across the city, Schiavo showed just how unruffled he can remain even when discussing the maddening world of zoning in the city. Of all the coalition members, most of whom are lawyers and all of whom are well-educated and knowledgeable about city policies, Schiavo was the coolest. He remained calm as he spoke for more than a half hour about the tangled dysfunction of the zoning system, which he has attempted to navigate on the coalition’s behalf.

The other members who commented during Schiavo’s talk were flustered with the inconsistencies. Their voices rose as they described the backward appeals and variance processes for new developments. Others listened as they leaned back in cushioned office chairs around the long, polished board table at the law offices of Aston Kill in the PNC Bank Building on Market Street. Schiavo sat forward in his chair and wore a sleek black turtleneck, his close cropped hair and precise diction betraying his earlier life as a retailer of fine European furniture and lighting. He looked and sounded unlike nearly anyone else in the room, yet he seemed at ease and more sure of the intricacies and jargon of zoning than many of those with law degrees who sat around the table.

As Ryan Briggs reported in City Paper last year, after nearly six years of attempted reform under Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration, the Zoning Board of Adjustment still spends an inordinate amount of time and money hearing requests for variances to the newly updated zoning code. Briggs showed that the ZBA’s metrics for granting variances were unclear, often favoring requests that include off-street parking that disrupts pedestrian flow, but refusing requests that exceed the height restrictions or density limits in the code. Lawyers familiar with zoning regulations told Briggs that city council members got their hands on the updated code before it was finished, adding unnecessary complexity which has resulted in the continued dysfunction of the board.

Schiavo, who closely followed the creation of the new code over the last four years, says the problem lies not with the content of the code, but with how it’s applied. “I think the zoning code is good. But a new zoning code doesn’t fix our problems if the culture doesn’t change with it,” he says.

Coalition members say Schiavo and his committee are key in navigating these complexities. Ilene Wilder, chair of the coalition’s communications committee, and a former DC lobbyist, says Schiavo’s confidence and clarity comes with experience. “These guys, like Joe, really enjoy what they’re doing here. They’re good at translating the legal language so the rest of us can understand it. And someone like Joe, who is retired, uses the coalition to keep his hand in the game.”

Sam Little, an architect and former president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, says Schiavo warned him and others in his group about how proposed changes to the zoning code might affect their neighborhood. Though they didn’t know it at first, the changes could allow a 12-story building to be built right next to a three-story townhouse. Schiavo helped Little and the LSNA draft and present a letter to city council to voice their concerns.

But Schiavo, who says civic engagement was not something he grew up with, did not arrive fully-formed as a dispassionate zoning geek. It took a creeping change in the neighborhood where he lived and did business for decades to spur him to action.


Schiavo and his partner, Janet Kalter, established their furniture and lighting business, OLC, on North 3rd Street in Old City back in 1981, just as the neighborhood started to change. In 1986, William A. Kingsley, then-president of the Old City Civic Association, told the New York Times that the shift from the 1970s, when the neighborhood was mostly wholesale retail and light industry, to the mid-1980s, when it became the center of Philadelphia “yuppiedom,” was dramatic. One developer, at the time, compared Old City to New York’s SoHo.

For Schiavo and Kalter this first wave of changes couldn’t have been more welcome. Who better to market their fine European furniture and lighting fixtures to than young professionals looking for Philly’s answer to one of New York’s trendiest neighborhoods?

But then the neighborhood kept changing. Through the 1990s and into the early-2000s more than 100 restaurants and bars opened in Old City, many of them clustered around Chestnut Street. Schiavo says he saw this process gradually transform his burgeoning residential and high-end retail neighborhood into a magnet for out-of-town late-night revelers. For most, the shift was imperceptible. First, small cafes and restaurants opened in the neighborhood. When those establishments grew to at least 30 seats, they applied for liquor licenses, grew even larger and transformed into bars and clubs that stayed open until 2 a.m., blasting music, their fist-pumping patrons spilling out into the streets.

“The cumulative negative effects – public drunkenness, public urination, fights, stabbings, shootings, late night noise nuisance and vandalism – all of [that] was having a detrimental effect on the quality of life for our residents. Some of us were concerned about the potentially negative impacts of hosting any more of those [bars and night clubs],” Schiavo says.

As his concerns grew, Schiavo joined the Old City Civic Association in 2001 and started down the path to zoning geekdom.

And like a true geek, Schiavo describes the complexities of zoning with a metaphor, well, actually two metaphors. In the first, Schiavo depicts the zoning code and its many neighborhood overlays as a number of transparencies laid over each other on top of a map of the city. Each one of these transparencies changes how development is governed in the underlying areas. The second metaphor is less exact, but perhaps more evocative. Decoding the zoning code, Schiavo says, is like peeling back the layers of an onion. And like the metaphorical onion, zoning regulations make most people want to cry.

But not Schiavo.

For him, the process is straightforward, if not without significant problems. When a developer wants to build in Philadelphia, they must follow the zoning code. As the regulations are written, if the developer believes the zoning code presents a significant hardship for developing their property, they can request a variance from the ZBA. This variance details how the developer wishes to break the code. The problem is that developers and the ZBA have stretched the meaning of “hardship” to include economic factors, Schiavo says.

“The variance request should address something unique to the property being developed,” Schiavo says. A legitimate hardship, under the code, could include topographical features, such as hills or waterways, which make it very difficult to build on the property according to the rules of the code. But developers request, and are often granted, variances for both size and commercial use, based on maximizing their profits.

Many developers wish to exceed the height or square footage restrictions built into the zoning code and request variances to do so. The bigger the residential or commercial space, the more money the developer can make on the property. Others, like the proprietors of those restaurants-turned-bars in Old City, want to skirt the zoning code because it stands in the way of their business plans.

“When someone wants to propose a 12-story building in a three-story neighborhood, it’s upsetting. You have to ask if the project is in contextual scale,” Schiavo says. In Old City, for example, the overlay to the zoning code restricts developers from building structures over 75 feet wide. This part of the code preserves the nature of the neighborhood: packed with row houses and larger, but still varied, residential buildings with first-floor retail and businesses. Without the code, a developer could buy up a string of adjacent properties, demolish them and build a massive, wide, uniform structure, changing the look and feel of the streetscape.

The way Schiavo explains it, zoning may be a needlessly complicated issue, but influential developers have an even more backdoor way to receive a variance to the code. City council, in special circumstances, can grant such variances through legislation. In these cases, having someone like Schiavo review bills dealing with zoning is essential, says Wilder, the coalition’s communications chair. “We have the benefit of these people who can interpret these bills. Especially someone like Joe, who is so thorough. And even more important than interpreting what is in the legislation is knowing to look for what’s left out,” she says.

Most developers don’t need to go the route of legislation though, as the ZBA grants nearly 80 percent of developers’ variance requests, according to Schiavo. This record of lenience with the code adds to the frustration and sense of futility with which most people approach the variance appeals process. “People who attend these [ZBA] meetings think decisions have already been made, that the rules are dictated by the applicants. Even I always expect to lose. But I go in hoping to at least pause the process,” Schiavo says.

Despite this seeming futility, Schiavo still sees the ZBA appeals process as vital in any community’s struggle to retain its character.

Neighborhood groups like the Old City Civic Association play another key role in this process. Before a variance request is even heard by the ZBA, a registered community organization – usually a civic non-profit group – informs people in the neighborhood of the request and holds a meeting where private citizens can voice their concerns directly to the developer. If the variance falls within a certain threshold of breaking the zoning code – in other words, if it’s not too egregious – the stakeholders then meet as part of a process called the Civic Design Review, where an advisory board will hear each party’s testimony and make recommendations to the ZBA.

Sam Little, the former president of the Philadelphia Crosstown Coalition says frequently the developers get what they want early in this process, with residents agreeing to the variance even before it’s heard by the ZBA.

Still, the most controversial variance requests often move beyond these meetings. And although the members of the ZBA make the final decisions about whether to grant a variance or not, the dysfunction of the system comes from the top, Schiavo says. “You have to change the culture of land use decision-making in the city of Philadelphia. We’ve changed the code, but not the culture.” Schiavo proposes that the mayor, whether it be Nutter or his successor, set a mandate that not more than 15 percent of variance requests be granted. Variances, after all, are a deviation from the plan.

“The goals of the ZBA should be the goals of city government, not the goals of the developers,” Schiavo says.

But Schiavo’s experience over the last few years has been anything but indicative of a change in the way development and zoning works in the city. Back in 2006, Schiavo and his partner sold their business to two of their employees. This gave him more time and energy to invest in his work with the Old City Civic Association as the chair of its liquor license committee and vice-chair of its development committee. Then in May of 2013, after 40 years of activism, the association disbanded after lawsuits filed by disgruntled developers made it impossible for the nonprofit to insure its directors and officers. Schiavo has since been a vocal supporter of State Senator Larry Farnese’s Anti-SLAPP legislation, which would protect individuals and civic groups from such frivolous legal actions.

Ironically, though he now serves as the chair of the zoning committee for the Philadelphia Crosstown Coalition, Schiavo cannot become an official member of the coalition. After all, it’s a coalition of civic groups and Old City, where he still lives, no longer has a civic group to represent it.

– Text by by Michael Buozis.

– Photograph of Joe Schiavo by Anna Hiatt, Courtesy of The Truth About Trees.

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.