The Name of the Place Is I Like it Like That: 20th and Annin Streets, Point Breeze
There's neighborhood in Philadelphia called Point Breeze. By any measure, it’s been abandoned and abused by the economy, government and the larger community for decades. The neighborhood itself is essentially no longer owned by the people that live there.
Point Breeze: Overwhelmed by absentee owners
It's not surprising that residents who are left see how fragile things are, and can't be blamed for being suspicious of change. There's been a lot of betrayal.
Enter Ori Feibush, a developer active (and who lives) in this community liberally sprinkled with vacant lots both privately owned or government owned. Mr. Feibush is not a particularly huge builder, unlike bigger entities and nonprofits who march untrammeled through Philadelphia.
One objectively good thing he's done is to protect both his investment and the community by fixing up a vacant lot owned by the city. The trash strewn lot was cleaned up, new trees were planted, and a lot of the people in the area seem to like it. It's definitely an improvement, and considering the neglect by the city of Philadelphia towards its public inventory of assets and land, seemed like a natural thing to do.
For his temerity, the city is going after him, and essentially wants him to restore the lot back to its Dresden-like state. Something’s out of whack here. A property owner taking measures to protect their property value by sprucing up a value-reducing vacant lot generally does not end up in the crosshairs of the government. It happens all over Philadelphia.
Mr. Feibush is not particularly beloved by some Point Breeze activists. They fear gentrification, and there is always some justification when one is limited in income and your property values even hint of going up. It's paradoxical but understandable to want to continue to live as you have.
At UrbanTools, we've discussed the issue with local activists, and have discussed in particular how the land value tax could help residents even with people returning to Point Breeze and therefore increasing values. Basic Homestead exemptions would also go a long way to solving the divisiveness, and perhaps creating a new and better community from the diversity sprouting up.
Generally this has not been playing out well for the city. Technically, they are correct that Mr. Feibush has no right to "trespass." Don't think the city was stupid, they know what they are doing, it is just hard to understand who they're doing it for.
Are they are trying to intimidate this guy because he is rolling up his sleeves and getting the job done? Perhaps; millions of dollars of public investment over the years have really not done anything to make Point Breeze a better place to live for everybody.
Any city that wants growth has to allow it under conditions acceptable to the community and to the law. A city has to help markets work, and markets come in many forms. The Great Society model of revitalization has for the moment run out of steam and money. If they don't want Mr. Feibush to have the land for whatever reason (and he claims to have asked to buy it) , at least sell it or give it to someone who will use it.
City-owned land is held in trust for all citizens, yet it appears the City believes it should remain an Empire of Dirt.