Why Philadelphia Ain’t Detroit

In a recent article in The Philadelphia InquirerFailure to Adapt, Joel Naroff cautions how Philadelphia could succumb to a collapse similar to Detroit due to the trends of population loss in both cities and the overall cost of city services, and then proposes to “clear cut” areas of the City to pave the way for profitable redevelopment. There are so many problems with this argument that I am not sure where to begin, but let’s start with the logic of the suggestion itself: “Areas should be totally depopulated and the land banked. If large tracts of land can be amassed, commercial and industrial business can be attracted.”

This just doesn’t compute. If the goal is to not be Detroit and shrink our infrastructure to match our population, then for a “clear cut” to save money we will have to acquire the property and abandon it—cutting the cost of services like transit, police, garbage collection etc. The economics of suggesting that the City buy big tracts of land, demolish everything on it, stop providing services and then sell or lease it to companies “looking for urban locations” at a presumably lower cost than market (otherwise why do it) is laughable. Redeveloping those clear cuts will then require massive investment and huge expense for the first tenant to move in, and in the interim, the super blight created by a landbanked “clear cut” unsupported by City services will hardly help grow the City’s population.

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