How One Wealthy, Historic Neighborhood Maintains an Exclusionary Status Quo

Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron has had enough with the exclusionary planning tactics of the neighborhood of Society Hill to start calling it the "Republic of Society Hill."

November 27, 2019, 5:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Society Hill Historic Buildings

Christian Hinkle / Shutterstock

Inga Saffron injects thick doses of snark into a conversation about the effects of exclusionary zoning and other special allowances allowed the Philadelphia neighborhood known as Society Hill:

Caution! As you head east on Pine Street through Center City toward the Independent Republic of Society Hill, be aware that you are crossing into foreign territory. There are no warning signs, no guard posts, and, so far, no barbed wire at the border. But if you pay attention, you’ll notice that street conditions change abruptly east of Eighth Street, where the neighborhood of fine, colonial-era homes officially begins.

In the Republic of Society Hill, the crosstown bike lanes have no flex posts.

According to Saffron, neighborhood advocates in Society Hill have their own opinion on the matter of using posts to protect bike lanes from vehicle traffic, and the capitulated to the neighborhood's demands when planning the project in 2018.

"This isn’t the first time that the neighborhood has decided that the laws of Philadelphia should not apply there," according to Saffron. Height bonuses allowed in the rest of the city also don't fly in Society Hill, and now the neighborhood is seeking more exceptions, thanks to the legislative work of local council representative Mark Squilla (also the author of the height bonus exception):

Over the last three weeks, Squilla has introduced two bills that would tweak the city zoning code to make it harder to build affordable apartments in Society Hill. The bills also would increase parking requirements for new construction in the neighborhood and severely limit the height of buildings on Walnut Street. A separate measure would exempt Society Hill — the city’s most historic neighborhood — from having to comply with the Kenney administration’s new incentives to encourage developers to choose preservation over demolition. (Ironically, it was Squilla who introduced the bill creating those incentives.)

According to Saffron, planners are starting to notice, and take exception, to the exceptions and exclusions granted Society Hill. Philadelphia's councilmanic prerogative means the reform will likely be difficult.

Thursday, November 21, 2019 in The Philadelphia Inquirer

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