Yet in Philadelphia, as in most cities, it is not gentrification that is widening the gap between the people and communities who are succeeding in this economy and those who are not: It’s the rise in concentrated poverty.
At 26 percent, Philadelphia has one of the highest big-city poverty rates in country, with its poorest citizens largely clustered in the poorest neighborhoods. This dynamic has only gotten worse over time. Research by the Pew Charitable Trust reveals that from 2000 to 2014, 164 of the city’s 372 residential Census tracts experienced statistically significant drops in median household income. By contrast, only 15 tracts gentrified—shifted from having a predominantly low-income population to a high-income one.
National analysis by City Observatory reveals that such trends are the norm, not the exception. Residents of these communities are underemployed and underserved, and largely detached from the growth and revitalization occurring in other parts of their cities.
In Philadelphia as in all cities, the rise of urban innovation hubs and the jobs that come with them presents a crucial chance to engage residents who have been largely excluded from economic growth. But it won’t happen by accident: Changing the opportunity dynamic for low-income communities and populations requires intentional efforts, scaled for impact.
This is what we recommend in our report. We lead with strategies to improve the innovation economy, calling for initiatives aimed at growing the city’s advanced industry clusters, starting with precision medicine, and placemaking, transit, and other infrastructure enhancements to strengthen the physical connections among innovation district institutions, firms, innovation spaces, and amenities. We then suggest that the stakeholders in the area align and scale existing skill-building, education, and procurement programs to build a stronger, more diverse talent pipeline and expand business development opportunities for local firms.