About the West Philadelphia Promise Zone
Promise Zones are federal place-based initiatives designated by the Obama administration to address challenges faced by people living in deep and persistent poverty. The West Philadelphia Promise Zone (WPPZ) was one of four first-round designations declared in January 2014 and is now one of twenty-two Promise Zones that serve urban, rural, and tribal areas across the country. The ten-year designation offers preference points to help local organizations be more competitive when applying for federal funding for projects within the Zone, provides the support of AmeriCorps VISTAs, and uses a collective impact approach to facilitate partnerships and cross-sector coordination. These efforts aim to create jobs and affordable housing, improve education and health, reduce crime, and empower the community.
The WPPZ is roughly two square miles with well-defined boundaries: the Schuylkill River to the east, 48th Street to the west, Girard Avenue to the north, and Sansom Street to the south. These bounds fully or partially encompass ten neighborhoods: Belmont, East Parkside, Mantua, Mill Creek, Powelton Village, Saunders Park, Spruce Hill, West Powelton Village, Walnut Hill, and University City.
These West Philadelphia neighborhoods that comprise the WPPZ have tremendous community assets and civic institutions. However, people in these neighborhoods face disproportionate challenges that have arisen from a combination of generational issues. Poverty rates within the WPPZ are more than twice that of city-wide rates: 53.6 percent as compared to 24.5 percent. Long-term residents suffer from the lingering impacts of redlining, and those who do own homes have often inherited them “unofficially” and lack documentation that proves ownership. The area also suffers from high housing vacancy rates and vacancies along commercial corridors like Lancaster Avenue. Given some of the neighborhoods’ proximity to Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania, they face unique challenges when it comes to development. In particular, the preservation and creation of affordable housing is difficult, as the market rates of student housing often surpass the affordability threshold of long-term residents. Investments in housing, education, and workforce development in the WPPZ are key to uplifting this community.
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SEPTA photo by Chris Henry from Unsplash
Mosaic photo by Pilar Berguido