Public Letter to Eastwick, Planning Process begins

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Eastwick public meeting, July 21, 2016 – photo by Debbie Beer

Dear Eastwick Residents and Stakeholders,

At recent Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition public meetings, we, as well as representatives of various city agencies, announced to the community that an Eastwick Planning Process is about to begin. The Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant to facilitate that process was just released and is now available online. We are obviously thrilled to know that the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and Philadelphia City Planning Commission are committed to helping us develop a plan for Eastwick. We hope you are too. It is only with robust community engagement that we all can create the plan we need for Eastwick.

That discussion included a hope to include the 47-acre Pepper Middle School and ComTech sites as part of that process. The RFP includes an intent to do so.

At our July 21st public meeting, Eastwick residents asked questions about Pepper and Comtech, particularly around the purpose and outcome of the public meeting EFNC held on September 17, 2015, and a straw vote taken at that meeting.

We explained in our September 23, 2015, letter following up on the meeting:
[T]he purpose of the meeting was to initiate a community based, community driven forum specifically designed to engage Eastwick residents in a much-needed public conversation about the absolute best development possibilities for the Pepper-ComTech sites. One of our first tasks when planning this meeting was to facilitate the means by which residents could express their concerns and interests regarding the Pepper-ComTech sites. One of the most telling and efficient ways of doing this was to institute a non-binding straw vote process, to serve as general public commentary on the proposals presented by the three invited presenters: First Baptist Church of Paschall, Envista Farms Urban Farming, and The Henderson Group.

This letter went out to each of the prospective developers and Councilman Johnson’s office, but we neglected to make it electronically available to the wider community. That was our oversight and, thus, we are doing so now. (Click here to download PDF of September 23, 2015 Letter))

As the letter states, the meeting was meant to provide a forum for discussion. In our letter, we did report back the results of the non-binding straw vote—sharing our analysis of votes within the 19153 zip code, while noting that a full one third of meeting participants were from outside the neighborhood of the Pepper-ComTech sites. We reiterated that the vote was meant to give us a preliminary indication of the community’s thinking and find out whether the community needed additional information. It was never intended to be either binding or a definitive indication of community preference. This was, and continues to be, true for a number of reasons.

First, this was the initial conversation about a large and environmentally sensitive public asset, a large portion of which continues to be in use by residents. It was our first opportunity to engage with potential developers and, while the developers’ presentations were informative, they all lacked information that would be critical to any decision by the community. We were aware that the meeting would be the first of many conversations about that site.

Second, residents themselves made it clear that they would need more information about proposals for that site. None of the proposals were comprehensive—almost half the residents from 19153 who did attend did not vote because they needed more information. And, of the people who voted, half said they needed more information. Following the meeting, we reached out to all of the potential developers, asking for more information, including basic financial information, environmental impacts, community benefits, and project design and did not receive any additional information.

The third item we did not note in our letter, but probably should have: It is our understanding that the School Reform Commission has the final say on the disposition of this property. It is our hope that the SRC will give weight to the interests of the community. And we are working hard to ensure that all interested parties, including residents, potential developers and other stakeholders, have the most informed points of view and opportunity for dialogue to enable meaningful, informed community input.

Finally, it is important to note that Eastwick has seen big changes since September of last year. Since then Eastwick residents secured a formal place at the table as active participants in planning for the neighborhood’s future: On December 23, 2015, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority settled with New Eastwick Corporation (Korman) and took back control over one hundred acres of land in Eastwick. In doing so, PRA committed to funding a planning process for the undeveloped parcels in Eastwick.

The planning process is intended to begin in the fall of 2016. Our city agencies and elected officials have recognized the need to approach carefully development of large sites in Eastwick, giving great weight to community input and needs, but also building in analysis of economic and environmental conditions in the neighborhood. As per PRA, community engagement will be a priority in the process and, as we said at the beginning of this letter, it continues to be our hope and understanding that the large Pepper-ComTech sites will be incorporated into that process. Eastwick has not had a new plan since the first urban renewal plan of 1957, so this is an important opportunity for the community.

We hope this letter together with our letter from last fall, explains our own process and alleviates any confusion anyone might have. Moreover, by this letter, we emphatically encourage all residents and stakeholders—including any potential developers—to be active participants in the planning process.

Terry Williams
President, Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition

Eliminating ‘Blight’ in Modern Urban Planning

Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition is grateful for the opportunity to post, “Eliminating Blight,” a guest editorial in the August 2016 issue of Grid magazine.

We believe the term “blight” has no place in modern urban planning, and we call for a public discussion to understand the impacts of blight designation, and for a clear and transparent process to remove such designation.  Below is our editorial:


Illustration by Nicholas Massarrelli

ELIMINATING BLIGHT, by Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition
Grid magazine, August 4, 2016

A blighted neighborhood… what does that mean? For many, the word conjures images of cracked sidewalks, strewn trash, rusty cars and homes in need of a paint job. But are any Philadelphia neighborhoods free of such features?

According to Pennsylvania Urban Redevelopment Law, seven criteria are used to determine whether blight exists in an area, and the above description would meet many of them. But only one of those criteria needs to be met to establish a property or an area as blighted—a first step in the process by which city officials may use eminent domain to seize land from homeowners.

Although the term seems neutral, the history of blight is also deeply rooted in racism. For decades, local governments have used the term to condemn areas predominated by racial and ethnic minorities and immigrants.

For Eastwick, a primarily African-American and immigrant neighborhood in Southwest Philadelphia, this has meant trouble. The term was originally applied to Eastwick in the 1950s by people who didn’t live here, by officials who set out to create a new “city within a city,” without respect for existing community cohesion. In 2006, Eastwick was recertified as “blighted,” a designation that residents feel strongly continues to hold the Eastwick community back. Now, in 2016, it’s time to eliminate “blight”—a word that has become synonymous with racism and injustice—from the vocabulary of city planning officials.

To understand Eastwick’s future, we must acknowledge its past. Eastwick was officially designated as blighted in December 1950 by the city of Philadelphia planning and redevelopment agencies. This action facilitated the largest urban redevelopment project in history, in which more than 2,100 acres of land were condemned and seized. Over the next half-century, the Korman Corp. held the rights to redevelop and renew Eastwick. Old brick homes were razed and replaced by modern buildings, streets were planned and paved for new cul-de-sacs, and the Penrose Plaza was conceived and constructed.

In the name of urban renewal, more than 8,600 people—bewildered, frustrated and angry—were displaced. Many of them protested, unsuccessfully, the forced sale of their homes. Families, churches and local businesses were forced to leave; most never returned. A peaceful, racially integrated community known as the Meadows was effectively destroyed.

Despite the city-led redevelopment, Eastwick’s blight certification was renewed in March 2006 under the Street administration. The recertification cites evidence of three of the seven criteria used to define blight: 1) unsafe, unsanitary, inadequate, or overcrowded conditions; 2) faulty street and lot layout; and 3) “economically or socially undesirable” land use.

However, the report fails to mention that the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, not individual Eastwick residents, held title to the 162 acres of “vacant land” relied upon to recertify Eastwick as blighted; that the illegal dumping was occurring on that same publicly owned land; or that there was no intent to relocate the industrial activity that aggravated blight conditions in this environmentally vulnerable area.

In short, Eastwick residents—the individuals most impacted by the blight designation—played no role in creating so-called blighted conditions.

Today, this blight status—and the police power it represents—remains. It’s a significant concern for Eastwick residents, many of whom have lived here for decades. Attracted to this peaceful corner of Philadelphia, cradled by the trails along Cobbs Creek and the trees of John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, Eastwick’s residents—before and since the ill-fated urban redevelopment project—do not see their community as blighted. But they have no power to change these conditions going forward, even though they have committed to staying in the neighborhood and organizing to protect their community.

Community activists—dedicated residents such as Earl Wilson, Leonard Stewart, Ramona Rousseau-Reid, Joanne Graham and Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition (EFNC) President Terry Williams—have come together with renewed energy, working hard to make Eastwick whole, despite deep-seated distrust of a city that disenfranchised and disrespected their elders years ago.

They are proud of the storied history of Eastwick, and they are looking forward to the next chapters of change.

The EFNC is dedicated to engaging and empowering those residents, advocating for an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable future for the community. EFNC is working with elected officials and city agencies to ensure that future planning in Eastwick is conducted with residents, not for them. The recently approved Lower Southwest District Plan incorporated significant community input and is, thus, a step in the right direction.

The blight designation, however, remains in force in Eastwick.

EFNC believes that the term “blight” is an archaic tool that has no place in modern urban planning. We call for a public discussion in order for city officials to understand the long-term social and developmental impacts of the blight designation, and for a clear and transparent pathway for removing a designation that is impeding the forward progress of Eastwick.

The negative social and psychological impacts of the label are real. As a blight designation initiated a painful chapter of Eastwick’s history, removing the designation would be an auspicious start for the next one.

Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition in Southwest Philadelphia brings together community stakeholders in planning and advocating for an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable future for Eastwick. For information or to get involved, email or visit

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