Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Howard Gillette

Camden County, New Jersey

Formed in 1844 from parts of what had been Gloucester County since 1686, Camden County maintained throughout its history a prominent role in the greater Philadelphia region, sustaining its close association with the city of Philadelphia and serving a central role in the social and economic life of South Jersey. Always a diversified area, the county’s more rural areas to the east of Philadelphia suburbanized in the mid-twentieth century even as the county seat and historic county keystone, Camden City, fell in influence and power. By the early twenty-first century, despite considerable effort to reverse the trend, the county reflected every element of the modern balkanized metropolitan area: an impoverished urban core, fraying older suburban areas fringing Camden, and more-affluent outer suburbs.

Early settlement in the area that became Camden County stemmed from European competition to exploit the material resources of the region then designated as West Jersey. Although Swedes and the Dutch settled there first, the desire to be competitive spurred West Jersey’s British trustees, including William Penn (1644-1718), to sign a Concessions and Agreements document in 1677 granting assurances of religious freedom, equitable taxation, and representative government. Aimed at Quakers seeking refuge from persecution, the document induced the settlement of a contingent of migrants from Ireland, in an area known as the Irish Tenth, whose boundaries were contiguous with modern Camden County. Initially coexisting peacefully with native inhabitants, the Lenni Lenape, the European settlers over time displaced native inhabitants as trade and settlement grew in close association with the city of Philadelphia after its establishment in 1682.

[caption id="attachment_33786" align="alignright" width="250"]a colored map of Camden County in 1857 with major rail lines, turnpikes, cities, and townships marked. Camden County separated from Gloucester County in 1844 as the result of a contentious vote. The population of the county grew rapidly in this period and new municipalities formed as communities grew around desirable features like rivers (for milling) or railway stations. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

A ferry operating as early as 1688 provided the earliest means of communication and transportation between the two colonies on the Delaware River. Operated in its early years by members of the Cooper family, the area of modest settlement on the New Jersey side was known for nearly a century as Cooper’s Ferry. Under Jacob Cooper’s direction, an area of some one hundred acres built up with the intent of making the area Philadelphia’s most prominent suburb. Cooper named his project Camden Town, after Charles Pratt, First Earl of Camden, a British judge known for his defense of the American cause. The effort faltered but did not collapse during the American Revolution, when British troops occupying Philadelphia foraged the area for food and supplies.

Settlement took a big step forward when ambitious entrepreneurs based in Gloucester City laid out city streets in 1820, leading to the incorporation of Camden City in 1828. Early manufacturing plants along the Delaware River boosted the city’s standing and put it in competition with the Gloucester County seat at Woodbury for influence in the region. After rural interests succeeded in carving a new Atlantic County out of the eastern portions of Gloucester County in 1837, Camden enthusiasts pressed their own case for a new county. Divisions hardened, however, as political partisans fought for state as well as local control, and the creation of the new Camden County, finally, in 1844, was bitterly contested. A new courthouse designed by the noted Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan (1815-84) in 1853 signified the city’s stature, but it was Camden’s emergence as the heart of improved transportation networks, not politics, that explained its rise from a mere hamlet at the time of the Revolution to a city of 9,479, more than a third of the county’s population, at mid-century.

Transportation Networks

A number of entrepreneurs sought to build up rivals to Camden through development expected to follow from the establishment of turnpikes and railways. A number of these enterprises failed, including the Moorestown and Camden Turnpike, chartered in 1849 with the intent of boosting suburban development on the northeastern bank of Cooper’s Creek. More successful was the advent, in 1834, of the Camden and Amboy Railroad with connections to New York City, not just from southern New Jersey but also from Southeast Pennsylvania, for those traveling by ferry to Camden and then north. A second railroad, the Camden and Atlantic, organized in 1836, further enhanced the city as a transportation center, as area residents made their way to the Jersey Shore.

[caption id="attachment_33721" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of the Indian King Tavern in Haddonfield, a white Colonial-era three-story tavern with black window shutters. A wooden horse trough stands on the street in front. a hanging sign in the foreground reads "The Indian King". The Indian King Tavern, built in 1750, served as a business and political center for the growing village of Haddonfield. The New Jersey State Assembly endorsed the Declaration of Independence and the Great Seal of New Jersey in the tavern in 1777. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

As transportation corridors extended out from Camden at the core, trade picked up in older communities. Originally settled by Quakers seeking religious freedom in 1682, Gloustertown. rose from a tiny fishing village to become the center of local political and military organization in the years immediately before the American Revolution. Early manufacturing activity there was promising, but lack of a rail connections to Camden, until 1873, retarded growth, despite the area’s incorporation as Gloucester City in 1868. With that rail connection in place, the city grew by nearly 50 percent in the ensuing decade to 5,347 people. The area north of Camden also flourished with gristmills and sawmills established along the Pennsauken Creek in an area designated as Delaware Township. In 1854 a group of investors, seeking to capitalize on a proposed rail line passing through a cluster of country estates owned by Philadelphia dry goods merchants and known locally as Merchantville, laid out additional lots intended to spur growth. With the arrival of the Camden and Amboy in 1869 they realized returns on their investments, and in 1874 the tiny hamlet—at seven-tenths of a square mile—officially formed as Merchantville Borough, separating itself from Stockton Township, which had itself formed out of the north portion of Delaware Township in 1859. In 1892 another portion of Stockton, which had fostered its own industries, withdrew to form Pennsauken Township. Finally, in 1899 the city of Camden annexed the remaining part of what had once been Stockton Township.

Camden County grew steadily throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, rising fourfold from a population of 25,422 in 1850 to 107,643 in 1900. Even as rail connections prompted town growth along the Delaware River, railroads boosted suburban development to the east. The Camden and Atlantic line’s decision to locate a stop and telegraph station on Collins Farm Road in 1871 prompted local residents six years later to incorporate as Collingswood. Spurred by investments, including the creation of the 61-acre Knight Park, by Philadelphia import-export merchant and sugar refiner Edward Collings Knight (1813-92) and other Collings family members, the area realized its aspirations to form a desirable residential enclave. Describing itself as supporting “the clean, pure life essential to social advancement,” Collingswood was one of the first communities in New Jersey to elect to go dry under 1873 legislation that provided the local option to do so. Just to the east, Haddonfield, whose incorporation stretched back to 1701 and whose early history included the New Jersey legislature’s adoption of the state seal at the Indian King Tavern in 1777, also grew as a result of the arrival of the rail connection between Camden and Atlantic City that materialized in 1853. After investors with connections both to turnpikes and rail lines formed the Haddonfield Improvement Company to market building lots in the area, Haddonfield grew sufficiently to break away from Haddon Township to form its own borough, in 1875. Farther along the Camden and Atlantic City line, rail officials opened a station at Long-A-Coming, derived from the name used by Native Americans who used the Lonaconing Trail to describe the route that connected the Jersey Shore to the Delaware River. As the area grew, it assumed the new name of Berlin, not because it drew settlers from Germany, although Germans were among the railroad’s directors, but as a community specifically created for Philadelphia Germans seeking to escape nativist attacks farther along the line to Atlantic City, in Egg Harbor City.

[caption id="attachment_33722" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white photograph of the unfinished Ben Franklin bridge taken from the Philadelphia side of the Delaware River. The cables and pillars are completed but there are large gaps in the road bed.  In the foreground are several marinas and piers on the river. In the background is the skyline of the city of Camden. The Delaware River Bridge, renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in 1955, connects Camden County to Philadelphia. Prior to its completion in 1926, Camden County residents relied on ferries to cross the Delaware River. This photo shows the bridge under construction in 1925. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The opening of the Delaware River (subsequently named Benjamin Franklin) Bridge in 1926 scrambled established transportation patterns for the region, forcing the Reading and Pennsylvania Railroads to consolidate their once highly competitive rail connections between Camden and the Jersey Shore and spurring greater reliance on automobiles for travel. A grand boulevard connecting to the bridge, designed in the City Beautiful style and named in 1929 to honor Rear Admiral Henry Braid Wilson (1861-1954), a Camden native who served in the Spanish-American and First World Wars, was intended to bind Camden City to surrounding towns, even prompting the idea of consolidating city and suburbs. Such hopes were quickly dashed by established nearby towns protective of their independence, and outward movement of settlement as well as traffic remained modest through the Depression and war years. Indeed, it was largely the undeveloped character of Delaware Township, which hugged the extension of the Admiral Wilson, the Marlton Pike (Route 70), that drew investments for regional destinations. The Garden State Race Track, opened during World War II on previously foreclosed land, prompted a number of additional glitzy entertainment venues, including the Cherry Hill Inn on farmland purchased by the banker and racetrack owner Eugene Mori (1898-1975) and the luxurious Rickshaw Inn opposite the racetrack's main entry gate on Route 70, a local landmark marked by its plate-gold roof and Asian decor.

Employment Expands to the Suburbs

Until the mid-1950s, much of Delaware Township remained farmland, with the exception of a grouping of fine brick homes with generously proportioned lots and streets named for elite suburbs on Philadelphia's legendary Main Line in the town’s Colwick section. That changed in the mid-1950s, as developers carved out new neighborhoods laced with tract housing in much of the 24-square-mile township. The location of a new RCA electronics plant on a ridge known as Cherry Hill, on land sold by Mori as he sought tax relief, brought newcomers to the area, many of them engineers from New York, even as it marked a shift of resources out of Camden. Even more important, again at Eugene Mori’s instigation, the first enclosed regional mall on the East Coast opened on October 11, 1961. Designed by shopping center pioneer Victor Gruen (1903-80) and developed by James Rouse (1914-96), the Cherry Hill Mall was not responsible for the choice of the new name given the township the same year, but it helped establish Cherry Hill as a central destination for all county residents. By 1965, Cherry Hill’s assessed property value, up from $9.5 million in 1950 to $156.2 million, exceeded that of Camden, making it the richest community in the county and all of South Jersey.

Employment opportunities outside Camden also grew in Pennsauken, which boasted the region’s busiest airport during the 1930s, until larger planes required longer runways and air travel shifted to Philadelphia. Both before and after World War II, Pennsauken attracted companies like Kieckhefer Container, which established its business at what had once been a yacht club on the Delaware River, employing some six hundred workers throughout the 1930s, and Randall Manufacturing, the makers of plumbers’ enamelware, hired another five hundred. Nearby, Cities Service established refining facilities covering most of Petty’s Island. After the war, Pennsauken attracted a host of midsize companies to a newly established industrial park on the Delaware waterfront. Between 1958 and 1970 manufacturing jobs in Camden County outside the city increased from 6,184 to 21,316, a number on a par with Camden itself. Even as the city lost close to half its manufacturing base in the 1960s, suburban manufacturing employment increased at a rate of 85 percent.

Population Growth

Blessed with an array of housing options and employment opportunities, the suburbs boomed in the mid-1960s and afterwards. With a population of 255,727 in 1940, Camden County climbed to 392,035 twenty years later. It added another 64,000 people over the next decade, when growth slowed considerably. As Irish, Italian, and other white ethnic families made the transition from factory work to white-collar occupations in Philadelphia and Camden, they moved to new homes aimed at a burgeoning suburban middle class. In a conscious effort to protect the newly acquired benefits of suburban life, these towns introduced building restrictions, through practices that came to be called exclusionary zoning. In Delaware Township, Mayor Christian Weber and his colleagues altered the township’s zoning code to require larger lots, as Weber asserted, “there will be no row houses, twin houses or prefabricated homes in the township.” Similarly, Collingswood placed controls on garden apartments with the clear intention of keeping out renters who might prove a tax burden to the township. 

[caption id="attachment_33723" align="alignright" width="300"]an overhead simplified line drawing of the Yorkship Village neighborhood of Camden. Houses, streets, parks, and rivers are illustrated. World War I brought an influx of workers to the New York Shipbuilding Company in Camden. To accommodate them, the government-owned Emergency Fleet Corporation funded the construction of Yorkship Village, a planned community of 1,400 homes based on the garden city model. (The Architectural Forum via Google Books)[/caption]

Due to its close proximity to shipbuilding facilities on both sides of the Delaware River, Camden County became home to several distinctive planned communities during World Wars I and II. Seeking to alleviate a severe shortage of housing options for ship workers employed at Camden’s New York Ship facility, the U.S. Shipping Board’s Emergency Fleet Corporation designated 225 acres of farmland at the eastern edge of Camden to accommodate 1,400 new housing units. Laid out according to “Garden City” principles established by Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928) in England in the early twentieth century, the new community allocated generous amounts of open space, including a central town square lined with shops, to support modest homes sited close to public ways with the intent of enhancing sociability among workers. Known originally as Yorkship Village, the area was annexed into Camden after World War I and subsequently became known as Fairview.

Several decades later, as another war approached, area planners utilized a new version of a planned community for war workers by laying out Audubon Park. Composed of some five hundred prefabricated units and supported by Camden #1, the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America, Audubon Park operated according to a pioneer “mutual plan” under which residents bought shares in the mutual benefit company that owned the land. Designed by the prominent Philadelphia-based architect Oscar Stonorov (1905-70), who had been codesigner of Yorkship Village, Audubon Park combined elements of city density with easy access to the amenities of suburban life. Such could also be said of the second mutual home development in Camden County, Bellmawr Park, some five hundred units carved out of an estate dating back to the seventeenth century. Both projects were meant to house war workers with construction costs being provided by the federal government’s Works Progress Administration


[caption id="attachment_33720" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of the Peter Mott House, a small white two-story house dating to the early nineteenth century. A white picket fence surrounds the grounds. A blue banner hangs on the fence marking the site as the home of the Lawnside historical society. Lawnside, a free black community, became a hub of the Underground Railroad in the years prior to the Civil War. African American preacher Peter Mott and his wife Elizabeth sheltered escaping slaves in their Lawnside home, which later became an Underground Railroad museum. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Historically, African Americans had lived throughout the county: in pockets of Camden, in an area of Cherry Hill known as Batesville separated from other settlements by a country road, in Haddonfield just off of the Haddonfield-Berlin Road, in Chesilhurst, and most visibly in the historically black town of Lawnside (originally known as Free Haven, then Snowhill when it was closely associated with Underground Railroad activity). Laid out initially in 1840 by Haddonfield Quaker and abolitionist Ralph Smith, the area offered small lots to free blacks at low cost. Incorporated in 1926, Lawnside became widely known as a rich source of black entertainment for the region as well as a thriving community of upwardly mobile residents.

Elsewhere, zoning restrictions, often combined with overt hostility, blocked Camden’s African American population, which reached a majority in the decade following civil disturbances that erupted in the city in 1971, from accessing homes in the suburbs. Housing choices in the 1970s and beyond thus became racially skewed in spite of the national fair housing legislation adopted in 1968. Spurred by discrimination in housing in Mount Laurel, just across the Camden County line in Burlington County, lawyers for plaintiffs seeking a zoning change to allow multiple-unit construction achieved a state supreme court ruling that every community should make available its “fair share” of affordable housing. While the ruling anticipated opening the suburbs to a broader class of residents, executing it proved difficult. Forty years after the first Mount Laurel ruling, Camden still had four times its share of affordable housing, while nearby communities Cherry Hill, Pennsauken, and Haddonfield fell well short of fulfilling their obligations.

Over time, suburban development shifted even farther east and away from Camden, a pattern evidenced especially in Voorhees, which came to be perceived as more exclusive than the once-premier destination of Cherry Hill. A town of just some 6,000 in 1970, Voorhees boomed following the opening in 1970 of the Echelon Mall, doubling its population the next decade and reaching a population of 28,000 by 2000, after which growth slowed considerably. Some former Camden residents who had settled along bus lines in nearby Pennsauken or the western portion of Cherry Hill in the 1960s chose to move farther out. As one sign of such decisions, the Beth El synagogue, which traced its origins as Camden’s first conservative congregation to 1920, moved first to Cherry Hill in 1967 and subsequently to Voorhees in 2009.

To the far east, Winslow Township, the largest jurisdiction in the county at fifty-eight square miles remained largely farm country for its eleven thousand residents as late as 1970. Nestled at the edge of the Pine Barrens, where environmental restrictions circumscribed growth, the township exploded in the 1980s as developers cleared land for larger, ex-urban homes that had come into demand. The area added another ten thousand residents each in the 1970s and 1980s, achieving a population of just under forty thousand in 2010. Connected both to the shore communities by the Atlantic City Expressway and other population centers to the north through Routes 30 and 73, Winslow offered a rare combination of easy access to employment as well as premier recreational and entertainment facilities.

Social Disparities

[caption id="attachment_33676" align="alignright" width="300"]a colored map of Camden County depicting the average median household income in the county's towns and cities While some areas of Camden County declined in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, others flourished. This map shows the lingering disparity of income between areas like Camden, which suffered deindustrialization and high crime rates, and Cherry Hill, which attracted businesses and wealthier residents. (Map by Michael Siegel for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Outward movement from Camden continued in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries as black and Hispanic families followed the pattern of earlier outmigration, to the west sides of Cherry Hill and Collingswood and especially to Pennsauken. As the minority population grew there, and with it the number of children eligible for free school lunches, local residents seeking to incorporate newcomers while still hoping to moderate the pace of racial turnover persuaded town officials to establish a Stable Integration Review Board. Formed in the mid-1990s with the purpose of encouraging white residents to buy homes and stay put, the initiative drew support of both black and white residents. The effort, which lasted more than a decade, had limited effect, as by 2015 the white population had fallen from 55 percent in 2000 to under 20 percent. Meanwhile, the African American population increased to 33 percent and Hispanic to 49 percent.

As Camden County made the transition into the twenty-first century, it witnessed a number of initiatives aimed at achieving more balanced growth. When New Jersey took the extraordinary step of assuming day-to-day control of the city of Camden for seven years starting in 2002, it required the formation of a regional impact council aimed at stemming the spread out of Camden of problems such as crime and blight, while offering hope that the difficult issues of affordable housing might be taken up on a regional basis. Local officials only reluctantly formed a council composed of the mayors of nearby jurisdictions two years after it was mandated, and they failed to pursue its stated goals with any rigor. As a result, efforts to diversify the housing stock of communities outside Camden proceeded largely as a result of the threat if not actual exercise of court actions. More hopefully, Collingswood invested in multiunit developments near the PATCO Speedline into Philadelphia, thereby fulfilling the smart growth goals behind such transit planning. An effort to convert the deserted race track in Cherry Hill into a compact town center linking homes and apartments to shopping along Garden City ideals proved less successful, as resulting development created largely big box retail well beyond walking distance of residential construction.

As of 2010 Camden County’s relatively diverse population had reached 513,657: 65 percent white, 20 percent African American, 14 percent Hispanic, and 5 percent Asian. The city of Camden remained the county’s largest entity, at 77,344, with Cherry Hill not far behind at 71, 045. Eighty-eight percent of county residents had completed high school, while more than 30 percent held a bachelor’s degree or higher.

[caption id="attachment_33785" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a line of men jogging on pavement in front of the Camden Police Academy. All of the men wear identical sweat suits except the instructor Recruits to the Camden Police Academy train with instructor Ed Borman in this photograph from 1972. In 2012, the county Board of Chosen Freeholders dissolved the Camden City Police Department and installed county police officers to patrol the city. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

In its modern form, Camden County proved reliably Democratic, as evidenced by complete control of its chief county agency, the Board of Chosen Freeholders. A holdover from the colonial era, the Freeholders advanced some modern concepts, taking over the function of policing Camden in 2012 and advancing an ambitious building program through the Camden County Improvement Authority, including hospital and university construction projects and highway improvements. Figures associated with county politics, most notably South Jersey’s most prominent political broker, George Norcross (b. 1956), and his brother Donald (b. 1958), a state senator and subsequently Camden County’s congressional representative, parlayed a generous state incentives program to relocate businesses from different parts of the county into Camden. Facilitated by Republican governor Chris Christie (b. 1962), the reinvestment program did not immediately alter the high level of poverty in Camden, but it nonetheless altered Camden’s image as well as its skyline as a city rising. With affordable housing still largely concentrated in Camden, no one predicted a reversal of population outmigration from the city any time soon, leaving Camden County still racially and socially divided.

Howard Gillette Jr. is Professor Emeritus of History at Rutgers University-Camden and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. (Information current at date of publication.)


Urban areas in the United States have always attracted destitute persons, including immigrants and internal migrants fleeing even worse poverty and harsher conditions elsewhere. Philadelphia and its environs were no exception, having had a reputation as “the best poor man’s country” reaching as far back as the city’s founding in 1682. Despite the area’s vibrant economy and opportunities for social mobility, however, poverty remained very much a part of its history, even as both the nature and extent of the problem shifted over time.

[caption id="attachment_29281" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white illustration of a shoemaking shop. Inside are seven elderly male shoemakers at work. They are seated on benches and surrounded by buckets and the tools of their trade. A cat sleeps on one of the benches. Lower sorts of artisans like shoemakers had difficulty earning a living wage. This illustration is from the shoemaking shop at the Philadelphia Almshouse, where vagrant shoemakers were employed in exchange for basic necessities and housing. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Assistance for the poor in early Philadelphia was shaped by the tenets of English Poor Law and administered by churches and private organizations, particularly the Quaker Society of Friends, which in 1685 found itself “greatly burthened and oppressed by the increase of the poor.” Responsibility for the poor depended on their origin and condition. Indigent persons deemed able to work were viewed as unworthy of assistance and were imprisoned, whipped, or turned away. Widows, orphans, and invalids received aid, but only if they could not rely on relatives, friends, or other parties deemed to have responsibility for them. Children were often removed from destitute families and placed in apprenticeships.

Pennsylvania was an early leader in developing legislation to provide and regulate public support for the poor. The Pennsylvania Poor Law of 1705 authorized counties to establish overseers of the poor, who could collect taxes for poor relief, and prison workhouses for “felons, thieves, vagrants, and loose and idle persons.” The stigma and harshness of workhouses provided an effective deterrent to seeking public relief. Subsequent laws limited immigrants except for those of unquestionable health, established strict residency requirements for public aid, and allowed Philadelphia to expel vagabonds and paupers from other colonies. The Poor Law of 1771, passed again in substantially the same form in 1778 after statehood, reaffirmed residency requirements (“law of settlement”) and the primary responsibility of grandparents, parents, and children for the care of poor family members.

Uncertain Employment

Working was no guarantee of escaping poverty. Employment was seasonal and subject to economic gyrations. In years that the Delaware River froze in the winter, many were thrown out of work. Those who could not support themselves through market employment or who had debts they could not pay would often be auctioned off as indentured servants, a condition that in practice was little better than slavery, the chief difference being that it was not permanent. Indentured servants could be assigned or leased by their master, could be beaten or whipped for punishment, and needed their master’s permission to quit, marry, or have children. Indentured servitude flourished in Pennsylvania and persisted until the 1830s.

[caption id="attachment_29287" align="alignright" width="230"]A black and white photograph of W.E.B. DuBois at around ate 50. He wears a dark suit and bow tie. In The Philadelphia Negro, W.E.B. (William Edward Burghardt) DuBois wrote of African Americans living below the poverty line in “blind alleys and dark holes,” crowded into tiny, poorly ventilated houses. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

An influx of immigrants in the 1750s and armed conflict—most notably the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763)—boosted the number of poor and forced additional measures to manage the consequences. In Philadelphia, the number of asylums for the poor expanded. Confirming a shift in attitude toward blaming poverty on personal failure rather than the economy, those who turned to institutions for relief faced increasingly unappetizing work requirements. However, such measures did nothing to reduce the number in need. According to figures compiled by historian Gary Nash, the city’s poor rose from 3 percent of the taxable population in the 1720s and 1730s to between 5 and 6 percent by 1759. By the time of the Revolution, one in four free men in Philadelphia were living in poverty.

Immigrants could be counted among the poorest of area residents. To combat their hardships, they formed mutual aid societies, starting with the Welsh Society in 1729. The German Society of Pennsylvania, formed to protect German immigrants who traveled to the colony as indentured servants, followed in 1764. The Hibernian Society and the French Benevolent Society were among other such groups formed for similar purposes.

Although the Revolution bolstered Philadelphia’s status as the nation’s richest city by boosting the market economy, prosperity was not widely shared. As agriculture commercialized and manufacturing intensified at accelerated rates inside and outside the city limits, wage laborers endured extended periods of unemployment and hardship. Winter weather cut off many occupations, leaving those who did not plan sufficiently well ahead dependent on a growing number of charitable institutions in the city and surrounding hinterland. As the largest occupational group in Philadelphia, mariners faced particular hardship at the bottom of the income scale together with laborers, but even lower sorts of artisans, notably shoemakers and tailors, struggled to sustain their households. Women, whether living independently or with a husband, were often compelled to work in occupations that did not exclude them where they earned half the wages of men at best.

Crowding on the Fringe

In the first part of the nineteenth century, when pedestrian traffic predominated, the most desirable housing remained at the urban core, close to primary sources of employment. Those lacking the financial resources to buy or rent preferred housing were compelled to find marginal accommodations in courts, lanes, and alleys in the central city or in built-up suburbs immediately adjacent to the city limits--Southwark and Moyamensing to the south and Kensington, Northern Liberties, and Spring Garden to the north—where crowding and inadequate services combined to tarnish their presence. A surge of Irish and German immigrants joining native-born workers in these areas roused concern among Philadelphia’s ruling elite as rising budgets for poor relief failed to reverse the presence of widescale economic distress. Seeking first to impose oversight through the moral suasion of temperance campaigns, Philadelphia’s leadership ultimately imposed administrative control, first by extending the area’s newly formed professional police force to the suburbs and, shortly thereafter in 1854, consolidating all of Philadelphia County with the city. What had once been an effort to assure the deference of the lower classes to those of higher wealth through the assertion of status and position now materialized in new means of administrative control.

[caption id="attachment_29284" align="alignright" width="233"]a hand-drawn map of an area of Philadelphia just northwest of Independence National Historical Park. The map has hotels, Independence Mall, and other landmarks denoted. The areas north of Spring Garden Street and surroundingIndependence Hall and  are labled "redevelopment area". The area just west of what is now Independence National Historical Park became the city’s tenderloin district and was rife with brothels, pool halls, opium dens, and gambling halls. This map showing skid row hotels dates to 1952 when the area was slated for redevelopment. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries))[/caption]

Increasingly marginally poor neighborhoods were associated with immigrants, with Germans congregating first in the northern precincts, while Irish concentrated in the area’s least desirable locations at the city’s edges: Moyamensing, Southwark, and Grays Ferry. By the end of the nineteenth century, Russian Jews and Italians joined earlier streams of poor immigrants hoping to gain an economic foothold in the region’s robust industrial economy. Mixing in the precincts south of the central city, these newcomers settled near the growing presence of African Americans—some eighty-five thousand in total by 1910—a great number of whom were themselves poor migrants from the South. As the competition for jobs intensified, thereby depressing wages, African Americans too had to settle for inferior housing as they crowded into “blind alleys and dark holes,” as the sociologist W. E. B. DuBois (1868-1963) described them in his groundbreaking The Philadelphia Negro (1899), where they filled “trinities,” tiny houses “with three rooms one above the other, small, poorly lighted, and poorly ventilated.” According to DuBois, fully 90 percent of the black families he studied in the city’s Seventh Ward fell below the line set by what he described as the “minimum adequacy budget.” Wary of established institutional forms of relief, he reported, African Americans devised their own network of mutual benefit societies to get by.

Echoing earlier responses to people marginalized in the modern economy, these clusters of poor, but largely working people prompted calls for reform—in schools promoting Americanization and in homes through instruction brought by settlement and later social workers. Reflecting a growing confidence among reformers that environmental intervention constituted an effective means of lifting the poor out of poverty, Progressive era reformers sought to improve both housing and adjacent infrastructure in neighborhoods where the poor congregated in unsanitary and often physically dangerous conditions. Their research, often buttressed by dramatic photographic evidence, roused public conscience to induce both new philanthropic and government investments in areas considered slums.

As streetcar and train service provided access to better living conditions beyond the core city, once desirable residential areas downtown declined, giving way to the city’s first tenderloin district and a skid row stretching east to the Delaware River, an area where poor, homeless, and transient men congregated amid the missions, saloons, and cheap establishments that catered to them.

African American Migration

[caption id="attachment_29282" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a young man walking on a desolate stretch of sidewalk. Behind him two small clusters of dilapidated row homes stand. The rest of the block has been razed. The working-class Black Bottom neighborhood, situated on Market Street between Thirty-Fourth and Fortieth Streets, was declared blighted in the 1960s and purchased by eminent domain for the creation of the University City Science Center. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

African American migration to the city accelerated in the first part of the twentieth century, driven by conditions in the South and the prospect of employment spurred by World War I. From less than forty thousand in 1890, the city’s black population climbed to 134,229 by 1920. With the advent of peace, these newcomers were dismissed from wartime jobs and, lacking access to either manufacturing employment or housing in the outer residential neighborhoods, sought accommodations in locations once dominated by immigrant workers. This was especially true in the area just north of the central city. By 1930 some seventy-eight thousand African Americans concentrated in the lower part of North Philadelphia, prompting its reputation over time as a location of high poverty and associated crime as “the jungle.”

The Great Depression brought hardship to all area residents, but in Philadelphia, where unemployment among whites reached 11.5 percent in 1933, the situation was even worse for blacks and immigrants, who suffered rates of unemployment of 16.2 and 19.1 percent respectively. Ultimately, 60 percent of African Americans were eligible for poor relief or public assistance, and 51 percent of black renters lived in substandard housing compared to 14 percent of white renters. New Deal initiatives, providing public housing and employment, ameliorated some aspects of poverty among African Americans but did not substantially close the gap with whites.

Despite the boost World War II gave to employment for blacks as well as whites, the loss of manufacturing jobs in the region after the war hit African Americans, whose employment was concentrated in industry and service, especially hard. As Philadelphia lost ninety thousand jobs between 1952 and 1962, black unemployment rose to 11 percent, compared to only 5 percent among whites. As redlining, racial steering, and other forms of housing discrimination kept the bulk of the region’s African American population deeply segregated from whites, geographic disparities widened. A survey of some of the city’s poorest African American neighborhoods reported 37 percent of the labor force jobless and 42 percent employed only irregularly as domestics, service workers, and common laborers.

The civil rights movement, race riots, and the War on Poverty called attention to the problems of poverty, particularly with respect to the nation’s urban cores. Philadelphia’s political elite responded with a variety of programs, much in line with the anti-poverty spirit of the time encouraged by the Johnson administration’s Great Society initiatives. To tackle the growing poverty problem, the federally-funded Model Cities program targeted Lower North Philadelphia with special health, education, transportation, and employment programs. In addition, the program focused targeted investments on the neighborhood’s housing stock while constructing large amounts of public housing. The overwhelming concentration of subsidized housing in impoverished neighborhoods nonetheless effectively concentrated the region’s chronically poor in contained, high-poverty areas. Such programs also failed to stimulate private sector investment and reverse the abandonment and neglect afflicting Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods.

Flawed Anti-Poverty Agencies

[caption id="attachment_29285" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white photograph of a small group of children playing in an empty, paved lot. Behind them, a group of three identical high rise housing project towers looms somewhat ominously. During the Great Depression, the Philadelphia Housing Authority began constructing massive public housing developments in the city’s fringes. This 1956 photograph shows the then-new Raymond Rosen Apartments at Twenty-Second and Diamond Streets. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Supplementing the Model Cities program, Philadelphia’s federally-funded anti-poverty Community Action Agency was among the first in the nation to be created. However, such city anti-poverty agencies were wracked with internal conflict and power struggles over the composition of the governing boards. These programs did not actively engage the poor themselves in planning and implementation, and the heavy involvement of local political elites transformed it into a form of political patronage. For example, Philadelphia Mayor James Tate (1910-83) offered just enough participation and control for African American community leaders to control some patronage, but not substantially affect the distribution of political power in the city. More importantly, none of these programs were designed to or capable of addressing the fundamental dynamic of rampant suburbanization that was undermining the economic and fiscal conditions of the region’s central cities. Moreover, funding for these programs, inadequate to begin with, fell sharply in the poor economic conditions of the 1970s. In the process, anti-poverty efforts became more localized with the emergence of community development corporations in Philadelphia and Camden. These community-based nonprofit entities did their best to attack neighborhood poverty by providing vital social and human services while promoting locally-based business development, job creation, and housing rehabilitation and development activities.

The manufacturing share of the eight-county region’s jobs continued to decline, falling from one third in 1970 to one in ten by 2010; over that period, over 340,000 manufacturing jobs were lost. This economic transformation had profound implications on the concentration of poverty across the Philadelphia region. As poverty and crime escalated in the city, those who had the means joined the migration from the city to new suburban areas with the promise of better housing and a higher standard of living. Suburbs were built at such a fast pace that their growth was essentially cannibalistic, leading the population of the urban core to decline even as the region continued to grow. Through exclusionary zoning and other restrictive land use policies, these new suburbs drew the most affluent families, changing the city by subtraction and leaving a higher share of its population in poverty.

Poverty in the region was not limited to Philadelphia proper. Some racially diverse working-class and middle-class industrial towns, such as Camden, Norristown, and Chester, quickly became centers of racially concentrated poverty. Across the Delaware River, Camden, New Jersey, a shipping and manufacturing center since the nineteenth century with a diverse industrial base, experienced rapid economic decline in the decades immediately following World War II. The city’s traditional population, largely European immigrants and their descendants, moved to fast-growing suburban areas as African American and Hispanic populations moved in, just as the city’s manufacturing jobs were disappearing. The city’s poverty rate rose from 23.5 percent in 1970 to 42.6 percent in 2013 while the inflation-adjusted median household income dropped by over a quarter from $29,793 in 1980 to $22,043 in 2013. Unemployment in the city in 2013 stood at 18.7 percent, nearly two times the regional rate.

Norristown, a center for the textile industry since the nineteenth century, suffered greatly from the decline of industry in the nation’s older urban centers. The borough’s poverty rate rose from approximately 9 percent in 1970 to 19.3 percent in 2010, while unemployment rose from 3.3 percent to 11.3 percent. Norristown experienced a sharp decline in its white population, replaced largely with African Americans and Hispanics.

New Arrivals in a Time of Decline

Chester, long a center for shipbuilding and auto manufacturing, lost thousands of jobs as industries moved to other regions and overseas. Due to its status as a hub for manufacturing jobs, Chester attracted a large influx of African Americans, rising to 45.2 percent black in 1970 and over 76.0 percent in 2010. Unfortunately, many arrived just as the major industries were in rapid decline. Chester’s poverty rate climbed from 19.7 percent in 1970 to 31.4 percent in 2010. In addition, a few smaller boroughs such as West Chester in Chester County and Paulsboro in Gloucester County also developed concentrations of poverty, with 2010 poverty rates of 25.5 and 29.2 percent respectively.

[caption id="attachment_29286" align="alignright" width="238"]A black and white photograph of two men standing on a street corner. One leans on a stop sign. Across the street is a boarded up, graffitied row house, a dead tree, and scattered litter and debris. A combination of earlier redlining and “white flight” as well as gentrification of older areas of the city left many of the city’s poorest residents in North Philadelphia. Property abandonment was widespread and large parts of the area gradually declined into a slum. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Another factor that began to contribute to poverty in Philadelphia was the rapid growth in the city’s Hispanic population, rising from approximately 43,000 in 1970 to 174,000 in 1990 and 414,000 in 2010. Hispanic newcomers, primarily relocating from Puerto Rico, were disproportionately poor and settled primarily in the neighborhoods east of Broad Street, from Kensington at the south end to Olney at the north end. By the early years of the twenty-first century the poverty rate of Hispanics in Philadelphia had reached 44 percent. Hispanics also settled in neighborhoods in the lower Northeast and in the northern and eastern portions of Camden.

By 1980, poverty had become far deeper and more widespread in North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, and Camden. Continued “white flight” and population growth in the suburbs meant that the poor became increasingly segregated in neighborhoods with low concentrations of the non-poor, especially within Philadelphia. Housing conditions in these neighborhoods continued to deteriorate, leaving an abundance of abandoned and dilapidated housing structures. High poverty neighborhoods were characterized by drugs and violence, a heightened police presence, and a proliferation of arrests and incarceration.

In the 1990s, buoyed by a strong national economy and low unemployment, the percentage of the poor living in concentrated poverty neighborhoods dropped sharply. Although African Americans still comprised the largest share of the region’s poor in 2010, their share steadily dropped since 1990, due in large part to population growth from other racial and ethnic minority groups. Moreover, migrants from other metropolitan areas began to strongly contribute to the persistence of poverty in the region. Those who had lived in another metropolitan area five years earlier increased from approximately 18 percent of the poor in 1980 to 35 percent in 1990. Most of these poor newcomers were non-Hispanic whites and African Americans.

Recession Undermines Gains of the 1990s

In the 2000s, slower economic growth and the Great Recession beginning in 2008 reversed the gains of the 1990s and boosted the metropolitan region’s poverty rate. While the percentage of the region’s poor living in high-poverty neighborhoods had been steadily dropping from 25.3 percent in 1970 to 17.9 percent in 2000, by 2010 a remarkable 7.4 percentage point increase brought the rate back to the 1970 level. Concentrated poverty within Philadelphia spread beyond persistently impoverished neighborhoods to areas that had been bastions of the city’s middle and working classes. For example, concentrated poverty emerged in such neighborhoods as Haddington in West Philadelphia, Feltonville in the Lower Northeast, and Germantown in the Northwest.

[caption id="attachment_29152" align="alignright" width="300"]This map shows the extent of poverty of the Greater Philadelphia in 2010 This map shows the extent of poverty of the Greater Philadelphia in 2010. (Map by Paul A. Jargowsky for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Due to deterioration of older suburbs and displacement caused by gentrification, poverty became more prevalent in the suburbs. By 2013, the percent of the Philadelphia metropolitan area’s poor who lived in the suburbs had reached 50 percent, up from 44 percent in 2000. Poverty rose sharply in the region’s older inner ring suburbs such as Wyncote in Montgomery County, Darby in Delaware County, and Woodlynne in Camden County, New Jersey.

By 2010, the ranks of the Hispanic poor had become much more diverse. Puerto Ricans’ share of the Hispanic poor had fallen to 57.8 percent, as Mexican and other Latin American immigrants formed an increasing share of the Hispanic poor. Mexicans accounted for 7.4 percent of the region's Hispanic poor in 1980. By 2010 they accounted for 17.4 percent. That year, 60 percent of the Mexican poor were born outside the United States. A gradual increase in the immigrant poor contributed to the persistence of poverty in the region.

The sources of poverty in Greater Philadelphia and the policies to address it evolved over time, yet it remained a persistent problem. The collapse of the manufacturing economy in particular set in place a series of changes that served to stratify the region. As social and economic conditions in the city declined and jobs became less tied to central workplaces, suburban sprawl facilitated white and middle-class flight. With no effective control over suburban growth, either in terms of pace or racial and economic exclusivity, the modern metropolitan area created vast disparities in neighborhood conditions and proximity to economic opportunities that highly disadvantaged the region’s minority populations. Gentrification, as it accelerated in parts of Philadelphia in the early twenty-first century and the increasing presence of poor residents in the older suburbs were new wrinkles in a persistent pattern, but the metropolitan area remained highly segregated by race and social class.

Paul A. Jargowsky is Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Center for Urban Research and Education at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey. He is the author of Poverty and Place: Ghettos, Barrios, and The American City and The Architecture of Segregation.

Christopher A. Wheeler is a research economist and manager of data analysis at the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. He is the author of a 2014 study for the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers-Camden, Poverty Dynamics in South Jersey: Trends and Determinants, 1970–2012.

Howard Gillette is Professor of History Emeritus at Rutgers-Camden and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

Community Development

[caption id="attachment_23758" align="alignright" width="300"]Demonstrators to save Chinatown are shown here in 1973, holding up their signs as Lynne M. Abraham from the Redevelopment Authority and James Martin of the Old Philadelphia Development Corporation testify at a hearing at City Hall in Philadelphia. The community development movement encouraged neighborhood activism, such as that exhibited here in 1973 by opponents of expressway work in Chinatown. Their signs voiced their objections at a City Hall hearing as city officials testified. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

During the community development movement, which arose in the 1960s in large part in response to years of disruption spurred by government-imposed urban renewal, Philadelphia became an important center of activism and institutions devoted to locally-based improvement programs. Community development programs sought to provide greater control over the future of neighborhoods at a time when declining populations and tax bases were weakening municipal government’s capacity to deliver services and attract capital investment. The outcome of community development plans often depended on the extent to which government and community could agree upon sharing responsibility for making policy, developing programs, and allocating resources.  These were especially difficult challenges in an era of scarce public resources.

Shared control over neighborhood development emerged in Philadelphia well before President Lyndon Johnson (1908-73) made “maximum feasible participation” a central component on his declared War on Poverty. Working in collaboration with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and the Philadelphia Housing Authority between 1952 and 1957, Friends Neighborhood Guild formed a housing cooperative devoted to advancing racial integration through the development of high-quality affordable housing in an impoverished community. It succeeded in both goals through the rehabilitation of nineteen deteriorated buildings in the vicinity of Eighth and Franklin Streets to create eighty-four new housing units. Subsequently it marshaled construction of Guild House, a 91-unit elderly housing complex located at 711 Spring Garden Street. Similarly, Bright Hope Baptist Church, working with a redevelopment plan approved by City Council in 1958, completed the design, organization, and marketing of 635 new single-family homes built in low-density style on 153 acres of land in North Philadelphia. Known as Yorktown, the new neighborhood helped create a base of middle-class African American homeownership in an area undergoing serious decline and clearance for the expansion of Temple University to the north and construction of public housing projects in West Poplar to the south.

Philadelphia became one of five cities funded in the Ford Foundation’s Gray Areas program, which piloted the federal War on Poverty’s Community Action Program. In 1962, the city formed the Philadelphia Council for Community Advancement (PCCA), to implement grants from Ford, the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency, and later federal War on Poverty programs. Led by a coalition of public, labor, business, university, and African American civil rights leaders, PCCA initially focused on North Philadelphia, helping to establish and fund early housing and shopping center development by the Opportunities Industrialization Center, founded by the Rev. Leon Sullivan (1922-2001). PCCA went on to build cooperative and other affordable housing and support the growth of community development corporations around the city, though by the early twenty-first century its work became limited to housing counseling services devoted to helping homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Neighborhood-Based Organizations

Despite the shortcomings of the War on Poverty, not the least its Model Cities program instituted in 1966, the federal policy of ensuring “maximum feasible participation” prompted the creation of a number of community-based organizations. Among the first in Philadelphia and Camden, both called the Black People’s Unity Movement and both inspired by the Black Power movement, were self-help organizations determined to do more than simply serve as repositories for federal or other public funding. Not adverse to receiving public-sector support, these and other organizations, including Mantua Community Planners, Mill Creek Council, and Advocate Community Development Corporation, completed affordable housing ventures and operated a variety of health and human service programs in response to identified community needs. Such neighborhood-based organizations continued to contend, however, with unwanted effects of externally generated redevelopment during the late 1960s through the 1970s. Much of this opposition focused on the use of eminent domain to acquire private property and the associated displacement of residents and businesses. During this period, a number of additional groups formed to promote activism or to provide support for community-based initiatives.

Some of these groups organized exclusively to address a single issue. For example, a broad coalition of neighborhood-based organizations spearheaded a long-term campaign against the Crosstown Expressway proposal, a plan first introduced in 1947, which would have taken land between Lombard and South Streets to support the construction of a highway connector between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.  The withdrawal of the expressway plans in 1974 was a milestone in the history of organized community activism in Philadelphia. Another highway revolt against the Vine Street Expressway and its planned ramps did not prevent the road’s construction but altered it and saved Chinatown. Across the Delaware River the prospect of a state prison on the waterfront prompted formation of Concerned Citizens of North Camden in 1978. Failing in the effort to block the prison, Concerned Citizens nonetheless moved from that defeat to create its own neighborhood plan and to secure the city’s acceptance for it.

Other groups formed to provide support for grassroots initiatives on a citywide basis. In 1969, the Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Architects founded the Architects Workshop, a program designed to provide planning and design services to community-based organizations. Largely supported by pro bono services contributed by private architectural firms and by VISTA volunteers working under the aegis of the War on Poverty during its early years, the program provided assistance to more than ninety community-based organizations annually during its most active period. The Philadelphia AIA withdrew from the program in 1977, though a group of architects revived its function in 1991, founding what became the Community Design Collaborative.

In 1973 activist Edward A. Schwartz (1943-2012) established the Institute for the Study of Civic Values in Philadelphia to promote civic engagement. The institute’s key role in supporting community development constituencies gained the organization citywide and, to some extent, national recognition and enabled Schwartz to win a City Council at-large seat in 1983.  Similarly, in 1985 Camden residents formed a citywide organization, Camden Churches Organized for People, as a means of bringing neighborhood concerns to the attention of city government.

As population declined and the number of abandoned houses grew, groups of squatters moved into several hundred vacant buildings, primarily in North and West Philadelphia, during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The North Philadelphia Block Development Corporation, organized by activist T. Milton Street (b. 1941) in 1977, began assisting families in breaking into and moving into vacant houses that had been seized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development as a result of mortgage foreclosure. Street subsequently broadened the group’s approach to support squatting in city-owned and privately owned vacant houses, as a response to the inadequacy of city policies to systematically address property abandonment and the need for affordable housing.

As squatting gained momentum in Philadelphia, HUD Secretary Samuel R. Pierce (1922-2000) entered into negotiations with a leading squatter coalition, the Inner-City Organizing Network (ICON) and pledged to help squatters find housing in HUD-owned properties. In 1982, the City of Philadelphia began awarding funding to ICON to support housing rehabilitation activities, a practice that terminated when the organization found that role beyond its capacity.

Community Development Policy

Through something of a cruel irony, federal anti-poverty programs intended to spur community development were folded into a much broader and less targeted funding mechanism by Republicans under the name “community development.” With passage of the federal Community Development Act of 1974 funding previously associated with eight programs was consolidated into a single annual block grant award. With that change in policy, municipalities and counties gained broad discretion in determining how Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding would be allocated.

The 1974 Act mandated citizen participation in the planning and implementation of CDBG-funded activities and the convening of annual public hearings as a required part of the preparation of the CDBG funding proposal. To address these mandates, Philadelphia government staffed a Citizen Participation unit, convened a citizens’ advisory committee consisting primarily of representatives of neighborhood organizations, and created a CDBG budget line item for “community-sponsored projects.” In addition, the city allocated CDBG funding to support the operation of Neighborhood Advisory Committees, community-based organizations that, like the Project Area Committees formed in the urban renewal period, were created for the purpose of providing information about government-sponsored planning and development activities and encouraging grass-roots participation.

[caption id="attachment_23759" align="alignright" width="300"]Members of the Clergy United to Save Our Schools, an interfaith community group, hold a press conference outside of City Council offices in City Hall. The members are (from left) Rabbi Pinchos J. Chazin of Temple Sholom; Reverend Gabriel S. Hardeman, representing the A.M.E. churches; Reverend Lawrence Miller Jr., cochairperson of the groups; Burt Siegel, of the Jewish Community Council; and Reverend Joseph Kakalec, president of the Philadelphia Council of Neighborhood Organizations. In this photograph from August 1978, members of the Clergy United to Save Our Schools, an interfaith community group, hold a press conference outside of City Council offices in City Hall. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

From the start of Philadelphia’s CDBG program, activists voiced significant concerns about the extent to which city officials would use their new discretionary powers in a manner responsive to their concerns and the extent to which external political considerations would influence decision-making about the allocation of CDBG funding. One response was the creation of the Philadelphia Council of Neighborhood Organizations (PCNO), a broad citywide coalition of community groups, founded in 1976 with the support of the Institute for the Study of Civic Values. The new coalition worked closely with the institute in advancing initiatives to make mortgages available in previously underserved neighborhoods, to address the city’s growing vacant housing problem, and to support city funding of neighborhood projects. Joseph M. Kakalec (1930-2007), a Jesuit priest who served as president of PCNO until 1982, played a key leadership role in convening and coordinating a coalition that was both broad-based and reflective of Philadelphia’s racial and ethnic diversity.

During the early years of CDBG program implementation in Philadelphia, activist groups such as the North Philadelphia Block Development Corporation joined with more established organizations such as the Housing Association of Delaware Valley to oppose CDBG funding decisions that bypassed neighborhood needs to support downtown development projects, police services, and public administration. This advocacy, ultimately supported by HUD administrators, resulted in a redirection of CDBG funds to provide more financing for affordable housing and community-based projects.

Affordable Housing Ventures

Although the National Housing Act of 1968 shifted government programs toward greater private sector control, two provisions—sections 235 and 236—opened the door to community participation. These provisions, through the Federal Home Administration, made mortgage insurance available to finance owner-occupied housing and rental housing, respectively. FHA insurance, combined with rental assistance subsidies obtained through the federal Section 8 voucher program, financed the production of many rental housing development ventures in Philadelphia neighborhoods. In a number of instances, these projects were organized in a manner similar to the Yorktown model, in which a private developer worked in partnership with a community-based organization or institution. Such was the case in West Philadelphia, where Mt. Olivet Senior Housing, a rental housing venture sponsored by Mount Olivet Tabernacle Baptist Church and Mount Vernon Manor Apartments, nurtured a collaboration between community members and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

Several neighborhood-based organizations, assisted by consultants and service providers, also developed affordable housing as independent producers or as active participants in joint ventures with for-profit partners. National Temple Non-Profit Corporation, which developed more than three hundred apartments, townhouses, and single-family homes in North Philadelphia west of Broad Street, was the most productive of these groups.

Community Development Institutions

Many new opportunities for direct community engagement in real estate development and service delivery emerged in Philadelphia during the second term (1988-91) of Mayor W. Wilson Goode (b. 1938). Under the leadership of Edward Schwartz, the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development, the municipal agency created in 1976 to administer CDBG funding and other housing programs, financing and service contracts between the city and community-based organizations expanded significantly. In subsequent years, the agency made community development block grant funding available to support the completion of neighborhood strategic plans, to establish a citywide network of housing counseling agencies, and to create a systematic Request For Proposals approach for awarding development financing, in which first consideration would be given to proposals received from community-based organizations.

A primary boost to neighborhood-based development in the era of declining public resources was the formation of community development corporations (CDCs), which became the predominant community-based institution in the larger community development sector. Formed first in the mid-1960s as part of the War on Poverty, such organizations multiplied particularly in the Reagan era.  Characterized by significant bonding capacities to draw neighborhood residents together in common purpose, they diversified their work from producing and managing affordable housing to engaging in workforce and commercial corridor development, community organizing, public health and food access, and various other projects and services. CDCs survived largely by marshaling external resources. These included not just government and philanthropic entities but the private sector as well. To further enhance their power to draw investment and desirable development to their neighborhoods, CDCs in Camden and Philadelphia joined to form their own associations devoted to presenting a unified voice in policymaking and budgetary circles.

[caption id="attachment_23757" align="alignright" width="300"]Aerial view of the the Yorktown neighborhood in 1963. Bright Hope Baptist Church, working with a redevelopment plan approved by City Council in 1958, completed the design, organization, and marketing of 635 new single-family homes built in low-density style on 153 acres of land in North Philadelphia, known as Yorktown, shown here in 1963. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Community development in Philadelphia and nationally has been supported by another set of important organizations, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), independent nonprofit organizations with their own sources of capital to reinvest in poor neighborhoods.  A Philadelphia affiliate of the national Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and a new organization, the Delaware Valley Community Reinvestment Fund (later renamed The Reinvestment Fund, or TRF), opened for business in Philadelphia in 1981 and 1985, respectively. Both organizations supported affordable housing ventures and other development and service programs in the region. They helped secure funds from the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program (authorized by Congress as an element of the Tax Reform Act of 1986), as well as the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (a component of the National Affordable Housing Act of 1990), among other sources.

Beginning in the late twentieth century, concerns about the effect of rising property values on housing affordability influenced some advocates to work toward the creation of community land trusts, organizations that would acquire real estate, sell existing or newly developed houses on the property at prices affordable to low- and moderate-income households and retain ownership of the land under them in order to help ensure that subsequent resale prices would be affordable as well. As one outcome of the late-1970s squatters’ movement, the North Camden Land Trust formed to manage the rehabilitation of vacant houses (assisted with financing provided by TRF) that were not in habitable condition. During the next decade, two land trusts formed in Philadelphia: United Hands Community Land Trust, organized by the Kensington Joint Action Council, and the ACORN-sponsored Community Land Association of Pennsylvania. Although these organizations were successful in rehabilitating vacant properties for affordable housing for a time, these initiatives were not able to overcome funding, organizational development, and capacity-building challenges in order to sustain operations over a longer term.

A Recharged Housing Market

During the years leading up to and following the advent of the twenty-first  century, Philadelphia’s real estate market grew stronger, influenced in part by national trends and in part by the success of a ten-year tax abatement, offered as an incentive to developers, initially in Center City and subsequently on a citywide basis. By one estimate, Philadelphia house prices increased by more than 150 percent in nearly every section of Philadelphia between 1979 and 2015. 

[caption id="attachment_23760" align="alignright" width="300"]Members of the Mantua Community Planners, seen here in their workshop at 3625 Wallace Street, were (from left) Chuck Baker, David C. Porter, Charles Collins, and Carolyn L. Walker. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries) Members of the Mantua Community Planners review documents in 1968 at their workshop at 3625 Wallace Street. The participants are (from left) Chuck Baker, David C. Porter, Charles Collins, and Carolyn L. Walker. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The revitalized real estate market, combined with shifts in federal funding away from housing for the poor, presented new opportunities and challenges for nonprofit and neighborhood-based organizations. Some leveraged private financing and entered into joint ventures with private developers. For instance, Project HOME purchased a nine-story apartment building near Rittenhouse Square and developed it for 144 units of mixed-income housing. The State Department authorized the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation to secure $33 million in financing through the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investment Program to support the development of Eastern Tower, a mixed-use high-rise development project at Tenth and Vine Streets, though the CDC abandoned its initial plans to include affordable housing in the project.

As property values rose, community development advocacy focused on housing affordability and on the inadequacy of the city’s policies for acquiring and conveying vacant property. Women’s Community Revitalization Project (WCRP) played a leading role in organizing coalitions to advance two related initiatives: the Philadelphia Campaign for Housing Justice, in support of an inclusionary zoning mandate that would require private developers to contribute a portion of their profits to an affordable housing fund; and the Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land, focusing on the creation of a Philadelphia Land Bank as a resource for stabilizing low-income communities. Philadelphia’s land bank legislation was approved in 2013.

The concept and institutions of community-based development owed much to the social and civil rights activism of the 1960s.  Although limited in power, activists in many inner city neighborhoods in the Philadelphia area remained committed to assuring as much community control over development decisions as possible. Because poverty and inequality persisted in many high poverty neighborhoods in the region, their services remained in demand into the twenty-first century as they continued to seek revitalization through community empowerment. 

Howard Gillette is Professor of History Emeritus at Rutgers-Camden and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Domenic Vitiello is Associate Professor of City Planning and Urban Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and an associate editor of  The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. This essay incorporates information gathered and compiled by John Kromer, former City of Philadelphia Housing Director and former Director of the Camden Redevelopment Agency.

Community Development Corporations (CDCs)

Community development corporations (CDCs), initially a federal initiative intended to direct resources to beleaguered neighborhoods where local activists would take the lead in identifying and solving their most pressing problems, first formed in Philadelphia at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s. As federal funding for such efforts dried up in the Reagan era, activists in Philadelphia and other areas hit hardest by the effects of deindustrialization turned to other private as well as public resources to sustain such grassroots efforts to meet community needs. 

[caption id="attachment_24284" align="alignright" width="300"]color photo of orchard planting at Evelyn Sanders Townhouses in Fairhill. This gardening project in 2010 at Fairhill's Evelyn Sanders Townhouses helps fulfill the development's commitment to environmentally sensitive and sustainable design. The Sanders site was developed and managed by the Women's Community Revitalization Project, one of a growing number of CDC housing developments that are LEED certified. (Photograph by Domenic Vitiello for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

CDCs originated in the 1960s under the Special Impact provision of the federal War on Poverty. Owing their origin to a 1966 amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act that designated the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn as a pilot experiment, the concept quickly spread. Given problems associated with Philadelphia’s anti-poverty program, not the least its Model Cities program, the city received no federal funding for the Special Impact Program. Instead, the early model for community development was a network of Opportunities Industrial Centers, organized and effectively funded nationally during the Nixon administration by the Reverend Leon Sullivan (1922-2001).

Philadelphia’s first CDC emerged in 1969, when residents who had been fighting the Vine Street Expressway’s potential destruction of Chinatown formed the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. Over time, its activities extended beyond protest to the development of hundreds of affordable new housing units and the transformation of Chinatown’s landscape with the Friendship Gate and other streetscape improvements. Another CDC formed in 1970 when the Tasty Baking Company, the largest employer in its upper North Philadelphia neighborhood, formed the Allegheny West Foundation as a vehicle for local investment. The foundation rehabilitated hundreds of housing units and a block of properties for mixed residential and commercial use on North Twenty-Second Street.

Two-Tiered Approach

[caption id="attachment_24290" align="alignright" width="300"]color photo of entrance arch at Hing Wah Yuen mixed-income townhouse development, Chinatown North, Philadelphia. 2005 photo. An archway marks one entrance to the fifty-one unit Hing Wah Yuen mixed-income townhouse development, spearheaded by the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation and completed in 1998. (Photograph by Domenic Vitiello for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

The concept caught on both in Philadelphia and in Camden, where neighborhood-based activity took many forms. Most CDCs combined “hard development”—rehabilitating housing and commercial real estate, starting businesses, and creating jobs for local residents—with “ soft components” related to human services such as child and elder care, home-ownership counseling, recreational activities, and drug and alcohol abuse programs. The West Oak Lane CDC founded in 1980, for instance, acted as its own general contractor with its own construction crew to rehabilitate the neighborhood’s 600 abandoned houses. It also created twenty-five new jobs when it opened its own Dunkin’ Donuts franchise. The organization survived as a housing subsidiary to the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation (OARC), which assumed the larger goal of making the neighborhood desirable to middle and working-class households. Over time the OARC directed programs in housing development, home improvement, education, economic development, and workforce development, while adding “softer components” such as arts and cultural event planning, grass-roots community planning, and even tourism promotion.

Many CDCs arose out of earlier grass-roots advocacy of the 1950s and 1960s, including civil rights, anti-urban renewal, and related movements. For example, in 1970 a group of Puerto Rican veterans of the Vietnam War founded the Asociacion de Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM, the Association of Puerto Ricans on the March), which extended their  activism to urge government to address the Puerto Rican community’s housing, employment, and health needs. Reflecting broader trends in the history of CDCs, APM expanded its work over the years from a focus on health and mental health programs to become one of the region’s premier nonprofit housing developers with a staff of over one hundred and a diverse range of services. Also following trends in federal policy and funding, APM’s housing development shifted from rental housing for the poor to moderate-income homeownership to a mix of affordable and market-rate apartments.

[caption id="attachment_24329" align="alignright" width="300"]color photo of a group of people The St. Joseph's Carpenter Society, a community development corporation, led efforts to improve housing conditions in East Camden. Here, the society was targeting shortcomings at the Westfield Acres housing complex in the mid-1990s. (Photograph by Howard Gillette Jr. for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

In Camden, Catholic parishes, left with the loss of their white working-class members, established community development corporations with the goals of engaging their new neighbors and stabilizing for them the often tumultuous experiences associated with concentrated poverty. The St Joseph’s Carpenter Society, seeking to strengthen the housing market in East Camden, undertook an expansive rehabilitation program, which included home-ownership training funded by the city’s only major remaining corporation, Campbell Soup. In the impoverished and environmentally compromised Waterfront South neighborhood, another CDC, Heart of Camden, drew on the skills, donations, and connections of former residents who had moved to the suburbs but remained committed to serving area residents through Sacred Heart parish and school. In addition to housing rehabilitation, Heart of Camden instituted associated resources for enrichment, including a full service fieldhouse created from an abandoned movie theater, a theater on the site where the director’s grandfather once operated a neighborhood tavern; an urban farm; and a community art gallery center carved out of an abandoned fire station.

In Wilmington, the Central Baptist CDC formed to revitalize the city’s Eastside, emphasizing a combination of workforce development and housing stabilization. Through its Urban Acres Produce organization, it sought to assure convenient access to healthy foods in low income sections of the Eastside and Northeast sectors of the city.

Local Associations

To enhance the impact of such localized efforts, community development corporations in both Camden and Philadelphia formed their own associations. According to a 2012 report from the Econosult Corporation, members of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, formed in 1992, had completed 1,500 development ventures at a cost of $2.2 billion over a twenty-year period, generating a total economic impact of $3.3 billion. In 2004 the Camden Non-Profit Housing Association reorganized and hired an executive director to assume the role of supporting the city’s thirteen community development corporations under the name of the Camden Community Development Association.

[caption id="attachment_23775" align="alignright" width="300"]Fishtown's Garden Center, built by the New Kensington CDC. Established by the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, the Garden Center is an example of the rebuilding of Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

With the benefit of access to a number of external resources, entrepreneurial CDCs were able to organize and implement development and service activities that had previously been managed exclusively by government agencies, businesses, or citywide and regional service organizations. Examples included the development and operation of a new supermarket (by APM); the construction of transitional and permanent housing for formerly homeless people, including on-site human service programs (by the Project HOME and People’s Emergency Center CDCs); and the implementation of an ambitious open space greening and development strategy (by New Kensington CDC) that facilitated the creation of Greensgrow Farms, a nationally recognized urban agriculture venture.

In order to help address the need to support community development corporation operating expenses, City Council member W. Wilson Goode Jr. (b. 1965), son of a former Philadelphia mayor, introduced a CDC Tax Credit Program, approved by Council in 2002, through which a business that contributed funding to a qualified CDC annually over a ten-year period would receive equivalent reductions in Business Income and Receipts Tax liability during that time.

Born in a period of neighborhood activism, CDCs proved largely adept at responding to local needs in light of diminished public resources. Seeking to lift the fortunes of those living in areas weakened by years of disinvestment, they could point to many accomplishments, even if the areas they represented continued to suffer the long-term effects of urban restructuring.

Howard Gillette is Professor of History Emeritus at Rutgers University-Camden and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Domenic Vitiello is Associate Professor of City Planning and Urban Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and an associate editor of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. This essay incorporates information compiled by John Kromer, former City of Philadelphia Housing Director and former Director of the Camden Redevelopment Agency.

Camden, New Jersey

[caption id="attachment_21237" align="aligncenter" width="575"]photograph of Camden in foreground with Ben Franklin Bridge and Rutgers-Camden campus at right and Philadelphia skyline rising in distance across Delaware River Camden, New Jersey, sits across the Delaware River from high-rise Philadelphia, linked by the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and a history of economic challenges as industries closed in the twentieth century. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Incorporated in 1828 and named county seat of the newly formed Camden County when it separated from Gloucester County in 1844, Camden City long served as the heart of the South Jersey region directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Besieged in the second half of the twentieth century by losses of population and economic instability as industry declined, Camden lost its once premier standing as it struggled with high levels of poverty, crime, and environmental degradation. Despite multiple initiatives intended to revive its fortunes and the resilience of its residents and anchor institutions, the city remained a drag on regional prosperity into the early years of the twenty-first century.

[caption id="attachment_20896" align="alignright" width="300"]An image of Camden's industrial piers during the early twentieth century, with manufacturing plants for Campbell's Soup and RCA Victor visible. Founded in 1869, Campbell’s is a producer of canned soups and related products. Known the world over for its chicken noodle and tomato soup, Campbell’s centralized its production on the Camden waterfront for decades. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Initially boosted by ferries connecting settlement in West Jersey to Philadelphia across the Delaware River, the area that became Camden capitalized on its strategic location for shipping. Its position further improved with the arrival of the Camden and Amboy Railroad in 1834, a primary link between Philadelphia and New York City. Although the town remained in Philadelphia’s shadow through the Civil War, with peace it attracted both the immigrant workforce and the capital needed to establish its own industrial base. In addition to a host of small firms, Camden became home to major manufacturing companies at the turn of the new century: most prominently Campbell Soup, New York Ship, and RCA Victor. The concentration of opportunity drew migrants from the United States and abroad. From a population of only 14,358 in 1860, the city reached nearly 76,000 by 1900.

[caption id="attachment_20900" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of Walt Whitman's house in Camden, New Jersey. The American poet Walt Whitman, known for his free verse style of poetry and his renowned and controversial collection of poems Leaves of Grass, spent many years in Camden. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Among those drawn to the city in the aftermath of the Civil War was Walt Whitman (1819-92). Following the traumatic experience of comforting Union troops during the war while based in the nation’s capital, Whitman sought relief for his poor health by moving into his brother George’s home in Camden in 1873. Subsequently moving into a snug home—the only one he ever owned—a few blocks away on Mickle Street (subsequently MLK Boulevard) near the waterfront, Whitman relished the remaining years of his life in the city. A frequent visitor by ferry to Philadelphia, he claimed that such trips reminded him of the experiences in his youth that informed his poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” At the time of Whitman’s death, an extended procession, headed by Whitman’s close friend the Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), made its way to burial at Harleigh Cemetery at the city’s edge, where the tomb of the poet’s own design continued to attract admirers into the twenty-first century.

[caption id="attachment_20899" align="alignright" width="300"]An aerial photograph of the newly completed Benjamin Franklin Bridge in 1926, and the surronding neighborhoods in Camden. A symbol of the seemingly limitless possibilities of Camden, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge was completed in 1926. At the time of its completion it was the largest single-span suspension bridge in the world. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The prosperous 1920s appeared to signal unlimited possibilities for Camden. Linked in 1926 to Philadelphia by the largest single span suspension bridge in the world at the time, Camden touted its connection across the Delaware River as the boost it needed to become a “second Brooklyn.” Boosters envisioned the formation of a “Greater Camden” encompassing the city’s surrounding towns and dominating South Jersey.

Growth Until 1950s

Camden never extended its boundaries, but the city continued to grow in population and influence into the early 1950s, as long its big three businesses thrived. Built upon a tightly knit neighborhood structure, often centered on Catholic parishes with distinct ethnic identities, Camden survived the ill effects of the Great Depression and once again rose to prominence with the boost World War II gave to its industries. The combination of corporate restructuring and demographic change altered the city’s trajectory after the war, however. Both RCA and Campbell’s Soup decentralized their primary production operations, in part to avoid rising labor costs as previously unorganized workers unionized. Losing its favored position to newer facilities in other parts of the country, New York Ship’s employment dropped precipitously from a height of 47,000 workers during the war and shut down entirely in 1967. From a height of nearly 125,000 people in 1950, the city’s population declined to just over 100,000 in 1970.

For most of its history, Camden dominated the surrounding area, offering the broadest range of employment, shopping, and entertainment options to area residents. As residents left the city for the surrounding suburbs, however, Camden ceased to be the primary destination it had been for generations. Decentralization of commerce as well as population took a major turn when the Cherry Hill Mall, the first enclosed shopping center on the East Coast, opened in Delaware Township (soon thereafter renamed Cherry Hill itself) in 1961. Within a few years, the property valuation of Cherry Hill surpassed that of Camden, a gap that only widened over time despite the suburb’s smaller number of residents. Other professional services, notably law, also decentralized, though hospital services largely remained in the city, despite some interest at both Cooper and Lady of Lourdes in relocating to the suburbs.

As a relatively small minority before World War II, Camden’s African American population concentrated in parts of South and East Camden, occupying the few homes that they were not barred from and facing strict segregation in a host of public facilities. As their numbers grew during and after the war, they pressed for civil rights, especially more housing options in both publicly and privately constructed facilities. A robust urban renewal program launched in the early 1960s made the housing crisis worse, however, by demolishing many older homes occupied by blacks. Protests followed, culminating in 1971 when news that a city policeman had shot a Puerto Rican motorist set off more than three days of civil disturbances. Already pulled to the suburbs by the promise of new housing at affordable rates, Camden’s white ethnic residents accelerated their departure from the city. In the decade after the riots, the white population fell from 61,303 to 26,003. In the same period, the percentage of the population that was black climbed from 39 to 53 percent. In 2010 the city’s population, which had fallen below 80,000, was 44 percent African American and 47 percent Hispanic.

Waterfront as Tourist Destination

When national funding for redevelopment dried up in the mid-1970s, Camden officials sought other options for revitalization. Following the example of urban shopping centers pioneered by Baltimore’s James Rouse, city officials worked to convert the largely abandoned industrial sites on its waterfront to a tourist destination. A state aquarium served as the centerpiece of that early effort in the 1980s. Plans called for accompanying business development, notably the relocation of Campbell Soup’s headquarters from a campus largely set apart from the city on Admiral Wilson Boulevard. A change of leadership led to a reversal of Campbell’s decision, however, and for years the semi-public agency established to develop the waterfront, Cooper Ferry Development Corporation, struggled to complete its ambitious vision

[caption id="attachment_21217" align="alignright" width="300"]The parking lots on Camden's Delaware riverfront, an area that once was packed with industrial buildings, were named in September 2015 as the proposed site of a $1 billion office, residential, and commercial complex.  (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)  The parking lots on Camden's Delaware riverfront, an area that once was packed with industrial buildings, were named in September 2015 as the proposed site of a $1 billion office, residential, and commercial complex. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Other initiatives targeted Camden’s high-poverty neighborhoods, including some of the most effective community development corporations in the region. Often affiliated with a parish, these organizations secured funding for housing rehabilitation and undertook a number of associated community-driven programs. Such efforts helped stabilize parts of the city, without, however, eliminating the associated costs of highly concentrated poverty: crime, poor health, and school dropouts.

Depressed property values and continued loss of business kept Camden city for years from raising sufficient revenues to meet its obligations, forcing the state to provide the funds constitutionally required to balance the city’s budget annually. Seeking to contain those expenses, the state first established an oversight board to monitor the city’s expenses. Subsequently, in 2002, it took control of the entire city by putting its own chief operating officer in charge of day-to-day city business. Accompanied by $175 million in funding set aside as leverage to attract new business to the city, the state undertook a comprehensive planning process aimed at attracting sufficient reinvestment to replenish the city’s revenues. The state takeover lasted seven years, without substantially reducing the city’s structural deficit. Democrats in the state legislature terminated the program before Republican governor-elect Chris Christie (b.1962) could take charge.

Such machinations proved unnecessary. Seeing a way of getting enough votes from the Democratic legislature to advance his programs, Governor Christie showered Democratic power brokers based in South Jersey with favors for Camden, including more than $1 billion in tax incentives to lure new businesses to the city. Hardly a boost to Camden residents themselves, who were ill prepared by education and training to fill these largely white collar positions, Christie’s approach at least offered the prospect of recentering Camden in South Jersey. Together with a handful of outstanding educational and medical institutions committed to building their presence in Camden, these new investments helped boost Camden as a destination. Whether such investments would bring with them further means for preparing Camden residents for the opportunities they represented remained to be seen. In the meantime, political opposition to opening up suburbs to greater numbers of affordable housing units meant that as much as Camden’s business fortunes might rise in subsequent years, new companies were likely to encounter a sea of poverty around them.

Howard Gillette Jr. is Professor Emeritus of History at Rutgers-Camden and author of Camden After The Fall: Decline and Renewal in a Post-industrial City. He is co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. (Information current at date of publication.)

Philadelphia Plan

Even as it underwent a painful process of economic restructuring in the years after World War II, Philadelphia garnered national attention from efforts to integrate historically white building trades. Dubbed the “Philadelphia Plan,” the program requiring federal contractors to practice nondiscrimination in hiring tested the liberal coalition formed in the aftermath of the New Deal in Philadelphia and nationally.

[caption id="attachment_10789" align="alignright" width="300"]photograph of a protest outside of Philadelphia's City Hall Local NAACP chapter president Cecil B. Moore speaks outside City Hall during a protest over access to building jobs in 1963. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Starting in the early 1960s, in reaction to civil rights campaigns in Philadelphia and elsewhere, the federal government used the wedge of contracting to require companies seeking its business to take affirmative action to assure the inclusion of African Americans among its employees. Monitored by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, the policy took a new turn during the Johnson administration by targeting construction trades in key metropolitan areas for compliance, starting with St. Louis in 1966 and extending to Philadelphia the following year. In adopting numerical goals for compliance, these area plans attracted the attention of U.S. Comptroller Elmer Staats (1914-2011), who ruled in 1967 that the approach violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which in prohibiting discrimination in hiring explicitly prohibited racial quotas.

Caught up in a difficult election campaign, the Johnson administration did not challenge the ruling. Not to be deterred, rights activists in Philadelphia worked with the city’s Commission on Human Relations under the leadership of its chair, Clarence Farmer (1915-2014), to adopt a localized version of the federal program, going beyond it, however, by requiring companies doing business with the city to “hire and train hard-core unemployed persons so that they may become an integral part of his workforce.” It covered not just the construction industry but all suppliers doing business with the city.

Despite its pursuit of a strategy to enlist southern states into the Republican fold, the Nixon administration revived the targeted area approach to affirmative action, choosing to promote a “revised Philadelphia Plan” in June 1969. With the First Bank of the United States as a backdrop, Assistant Labor Secretary Arthur Fletcher (1924-2005), perhaps the administration’s most prominent African American, announced an approach that skirted the prohibition against quotas by setting minimum targets to be achieved through good faith efforts in hiring. The program, which was quickly extended to other metropolitan areas, was partly intended to draw the support of African Americans to the administration and partly an effort to drive a wedge between blacks and their allies in the labor movement.

Implementation of the Philadelphia plan produced modest gains for blacks in the building trades, but it generated heated resistance from union leaders in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Formation of a local chapter of the Urban Coalition helped rally support for affirmative action in the city, but much of the white working class, facing a threat to their livelihood as the blue collar workforce continued to shrink, revolted. As Nixon perceived the political opening that the clash over employment presented, he moderated his support for affirmative action, leaving in place, however, precedents that continue to govern national as well as local programs.

Howard Gillette is Professor Emeritus of History at Rutgers-Camden and co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

City Hall (Philadelphia)

Constructed over a thirty-year period at a cost approaching $25 million, Philadelphia City Hall stands as a monument both to the city’s grand ambitions and to the extravagance of its political culture. Controversial from the outset--for its location, its architecture, and the patronage it commanded on behalf of its construction--the structure nonetheless came to be embraced over time as a distinctive emblem at the heart of a great city.

The massive masonry structure owes much to the consolidation of city and county in 1854. In doubling the city’s population to 565,000 people, consolidation required the expansion of services that outstripped the capacity of the two-story building at Fifth and Chestnut Streets, designated in 1791 as the city’s second city hall. As early as 1838 the Pennsylvania legislature recognized the need for new municipal offices, but disagreements focusing largely on the location of the new structure prevented action until the 1870s. In 1871 the question of location was put to popular vote, with the result favoring Penn Square to the west, where the city was expanding, over Washington Square at the heart of the city’s early commercial center.

[caption id="attachment_5270" align="alignright" width="239"]Built at a cost of nearly $25 million over a thirty-year period, Philadelphia City Hall stands as a monument both to the city’s aspirations to greatness and the extravagance of its political culture. (Library of Congress) Built at a cost of nearly $25 million over a thirty-year period, Philadelphia City Hall stands as a monument both to the city’s aspirations to greatness and the extravagance of its political culture. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The grand scale of the new structure reflected the city’s aspirations—futile in the end—to reassert its position at the top of the American urban hierarchy. Seeking to attract a leading architect for the project, the city sponsored several competitions, ultimately awarding the commission to 39-year-old Scottish-born John McArthur (1823-90), whose buildings in the city had included the Wagner Free Institute of Science (1859) and the Public Ledger (1866). It did not hurt that he received coaching from Thomas U. Walter (1804-1887), architect of the U.S. Capitol from 1851 until 1865, with whom McArthur had trained. Walter subsequently served as a paid consultant to the project.

Second Empire Style

Cast in the fashionable French Second Empire style—the same style simultaneously embraced for the structure later known as the Old Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C.—City Hall mixed thick masonry construction, up to 22 feet in some places, with elaborate ornamentation inside and out. Intended to be the highest building in the world, with its bell tower topping at 548 feet, by the time the building was completed in 1901, it had been surpassed by the Washington Monument and the Eiffel Tower. Still, it could claim to be the world’s largest occupied structure until it was surpassed by New York City’s Mutual Life building in 1909. By gentlemen’s agreement, no other building role above City Hall in Philadelphia until 1987 with construction of One Liberty Place.

[caption id="attachment_5276" align="alignright" width="300"]Statue of William Penn, Alexander Milne Calder, prior to full assembly. At thirty-seven feet and 27 tons, the massive bronze statue of William Penn placed atop the building’s bell tower has presented a distinctive welcome to Philadelphia. (PhillyHistory.org) Statue of William Penn, Alexander Milne Calder, prior to full assembly. At thirty-seven feet and 27 tons, the massive bronze statue of William Penn placed atop the building’s bell tower has presented a distinctive welcome to Philadelphia. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

In line with the city’s ambition, no expense was spared in the building’s construction. Most striking was the statue of William Penn placed atop the clock tower. Cast by Alexander Milne Calder (1846-1923), Penn’s likeness was accompanied by 250 additional relief and free-standing Calder sculptures throughout the building, many of them conveying high-minded allegories about the nation and the city.


There were other, less commendable reasons for the expense, however.  The public buildings commission formed to oversee construction proved a major source of patronage for an increasingly entrenched Republican political machine. A primary force behind the effort was a previously obscure politician, William Stokley (1823-1902), who after his role in the City Hall site selection dominated local politics for nearly than a decade as mayor from 1872 to 1881. In addition to directing contracts for marble and brick to political allies, Stokley’s role in securing a decision to build a single structure at the intersection of the four quadrants that constituted Penn Square at Broad and Market streets solidified relationships with street rail magnates investing in the Union Line. They used the building commission’s decision to force the rival West Philadelphia Company to share its lucrative right away along Market Street in return for permission to lay its tracks around the new structure.

[caption id="attachment_30800" align="alignright" width="300"] This photograph, taken c. 1911 from the observation deck of Philadelphia City Hall looking north, shows Broad Street stretches toward a vanishing point laced with industrial complexes. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

By the time City Hall was complete, its architecture was already considered out of fashion and thus became the object of some ridicule. Objecting to the building’s disruption of traffic as well as its style, city government explored the possibility of demolition in the mid-1950s. When cost estimates came in equal to those for construction and when members of the American Institute of Architects objected to the building’s loss, the city relented. Recent efforts to restore the building have well exceeded the projected cost of its demolition, but the building’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places and its inclusion in a national survey as among the 150 most important buildings in the United States assures its place in Philadelphia for a long time to come.

Howard Gillette is Professor Emeritus of History at Rutgers University-Camden and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

Corrupt and Contented

In July 1903, at the height of the period of reform we have come to call the Progressive Era, crusading journalist Lincoln Steffens published the fifth in a series of articles exposing municipal corruption in the United States. His subject was Philadelphia, and to his mind it was worse than any other place he had investigated. “All our municipal governments are more or less bad,” Steffens declared. “Philadelphia is simply the most corrupt and the most contented.”

Steffens’ reports helped launch a period of investigative reporting that President Theodore Roosevelt labeled “muckraking” in a moment of pique, but the phenomenon was otherwise quite compatible with his own reform orientation. Muckraking faded with the reform era itself, but the impression never fully disappeared that Philadelphia deserved the label Steffens had given it. Inquirer columnist Karen Heller invoked Steffens more recently in connection with reports of political pressure to direct $50 million to a favored candidate to operate a charter school. Can so little have changed?  Is Philadelphia still corrupt and still contented?

Steffens was in the business of selling magazines, and no doubt he heightened his account for effect. There’s no evidence, really, for the story he recounted of a “party of boodlers” divvying up their graft in unison with the ancient chime of Independence Hall. His account of  misfeasance was well enough documented to leave a lasting effect, however. Despite a number of good government efforts, some of which continue today, including the Committee of Seventy dating to 1904, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, which started as the Bureau of Municipal Research, and the Fels Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, the suspicion lingers that the public remains all too acquiescent in a political system riddled with conflicts of interest and hidden from adequate public scrutiny.

Anti-Immigration Sentiment

The system Steffens described had its roots in the nineteenth century. Some blamed election day improprieties and the exchange of political favors on the bad effect of masses of newcomers to the city, many of them immigrants with little experience with democratic practice. Anti-immigration sentiment reached a peak with the mid-century rise of a nativist movement, which attempted to extend the waiting period for citizenship to 21 years for the foreign born and to discipline immigrant workers through the prohibition of alcohol. The year this movement reached its peak, in 1854 with the election of a nativist mayor, the city consolidated with the county, and a very different political dynamic ensued.

An expanded city needed a variety of public services. The provision of new streets, gas and water mains, and public transportation all generated opportunities for money to change hands. As permits were issued, as charters were granted, as the number of city workers expanded to 15,000 by the time Steffens wrote, the lines between public power and private profit converged.  Something had to hold this fragmented system together, and taking a cut—“honest graft’ as Tammany Hall’s George Washington Plunkitt famously labeled the practice—seemed to be part of the necessary price. But that price could be exorbitant too. The traction magnates William L. Elkins and Peter A.B. Widener consolidated so much money and power for themselves, they formed the model for Theodore Dreiser’s own muckraking trilogy, beginning with The Financier in1912.

[caption id="attachment_2371" align="alignright" width="168"]Where but in Philadelphia during the early twentieth century would it be so remarkable that a public official was "incorruptible"? This plaque in the north portal of City Hall so honors Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler (1881-1940), who served as Director of Public Safety in 1924-25. Where but in Philadelphia during the early twentieth century would it be so remarkable that a public official was "incorruptible"? This plaque in the north portal of City Hall so honors Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler (1881-1940), who served as Director of Public Safety in 1924-25.[/caption]

One  monument to the system not matched in any other city Steffens examined was Philadelphia City Hall. Covering fully four acres at the heart of the city where William Penn had laid out four squares to form a central park, the massive structure took thirty years to build and cost $24 million, fully $14 million in overruns. Politicians shepherding the project extracted a host of benefits for themselves, all the time keeping thousands of city workers employed.      

The political machine Steffens described had only recently consolidated, following a reform effort that culminated in passage of a new city charter in 1887. What he described was the aftermath of such efforts, when the “morning glory” reformers, as their critics liked to call them, retired from public life to take up their private pursuits once again.  Given even greater power under the new rules, partisan politicians again emerged triumphant, supported by continued growth in patronage positions that reached 23,000 in the 1920s, second only to New York City. 

1951: Republican Reign Ends

Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal failed to unseat the city’s Republican political machine, but spurred by many of the reforms instituted at the national level in the 1930s, Joseph Clark, together with Richardson Dilworth, brought the Republican reign to an end with their elections as mayor and district attorney respectively in 1951.  Not incidentally, their election coincided with passage of a home rule charter, which instituted a professional managing director for the city and required civil service exams for many jobs that had been previously doled out as political patronage.  

It might be too much to accept Karen Heller’s implication that the Clark-Dilworth years represented only a short hiatus between 85 years of entrenched and calcified Republican rule and 60 years of entrenched and calcified Democratic rule. Whatever good intentions or formal mechanisms were instituted in the 1950s, however, they clearly did not prevent the practice we routinely describe as pay-to-play from infecting public governance, not just in Philadelphia but throughout the region. The central features of the ward system Steffens described in 1903 remain in place today in the city, and in the suburbs service contracts can be repaid quite legally in the form of political contributions to the party controlling the bidding.  Occasionally a politician will step far enough over the line to be punished under the law. Vincent Fumo and Wayne Bryant come most readily to mind. For the most part, the system prevails in forms that would be still recognizable to earlier generations.

It was Steffens’ belief that his reports would arouse public opinion sufficiently that it would ultimately cleanse the system.  That tradition continues with investigative journalism and widespread use of the Internet to expose corruption. It’s just possible that the Tea Party and Occupy Philadelphia each manifest signs of an awakened electorate. Like Steffens, however, we should not be blind to the obstacles to reform. Transparency and accountability need mechanisms for their sustainability. It won’t be enough to reign in political excesses like DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Program) or to assure that only verified voters cast their ballots.  If this is to be yet another Progressive era, voters need to pressure both political parties to make far more effective use of public revenues, even while acknowledging how important those investments are to the modern metropolis.

Howard Gillette is Professor of History Emeritus at Rutgers University-Camden.

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