Eva Gladstein on affordable housing, college savings programs, and exploring Philadelphia neighborhoods

    Eva Gladstein is executive director at the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity.

    “Five Questions with …” is a regular Keystone Crossroads feature where we seek to glean wisdom and ideas from some of Pennsylvania’s top urban thinkers and doers. Eva Gladstein is executive director at the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity.

    Tell us about an amenity or service you’ve seen in your travels to other places that you wish you could bring back to your city/community.

    I thought that I would talk about one amenity and one service. A service that I would love to see in Philadelphia is a College Savings Account program similar to one in San Francisco. Through a partnership of the City, the school district, and a local banking institution, a savings account is established for every child entering kindergarten. Incentives are provided to encourage the parents and children to save and grow the account. The funds are available for three years post-graduation for further educational or career training. While establishing a good banking relationship (something that many low-income families do not enjoy) these accounts also lead children and their parents to anticipate college attendance.

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    The amenity that I would bring to Philadelphia comes from my short visit to Barcelona a number of years ago. One of the great walkable cities of the world, Barcelona requires that building lines are cut back on an angle at every corner, to provide more room for pedestrians. In addition, many mid-rise residential buildings are required to have retail or restaurants on the first floor.

    What’s one urban improvement idea that you would categorize as “nice try but didn’t work”?

    I have two candidates for this “nice try” category. The first is the HOPE VI program, which encouraged the redevelopment of troubled public housing developments into mixed-income communities. The program did not require “one for one” replacement of the affordable housing units, resulting in a reduction of affordable housing options in these communities. Thankfully, that program has now been replaced by the CHOICE program, which does require one-for-one replacement of units.

    My second “pet peeve” category is business attraction programs that focus only on central business districts and ignore neighborhood-serving commercial corridors. These neighborhood corridors are often the lifeblood of a community, housing small businesses that provide jobs to neighborhood residents and providing important services that improve the quality of life in the community.

    Describe a person in your community who is a “spark” — someone who seems to get things done and inspire people. (This does not need to be an elected official.)

    Maari Porter, who has served as the Chief Grants Officer for the City of Philadelphia, and is moving on soon to become Executive Director of Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia, our local association of funders. As Chief Grants Officer, Maari brought together city, educational, business and non-profit players to develop strong approaches to address issues to help Philadelphia combat poverty and serve its citizens. Maari also strengthened the city’s partnerships with the federal and state governments. During her three years in the position, she helped attract $48M in highly nationally competitive grants for programs such as youth violence reduction, improving public safety, job training, affordable housing, and many others.

    What flaw or habit does your city/community have that you would like to see change?

    One of the reasons that I chose to live in Philadelphia over 40 years ago is the ferocity with which Philadelphians love their neighborhoods, but I wish we could be more open to exploring other neighborhoods and appreciating the city as a whole. Mantua, for example, is home to energetic civic, cultural, and other neighborhood groups. It abuts Center City, includes 30th Street Station, boasts a greenway, and is close to the Philadelphia Zoo and Please Touch Museum. Eastern North Philadelphia is a vibrant space, with residents, artists and other “makers,” industry and retail corridors (with some great restaurants!) living next to and supporting each other.

    Tell us about a movie or book that depicts, in a way that grabbed your attention, how a city can thrive or fail.

    We can learn a lot about the urban environment from fiction, as well as non-fiction. One recent book that I loved, “The Goldfinch,” provides a great contrast between the desolate environment provided by a failed housing development on the outskirts of Las Vegas as compared to the complexity, excitement, and richness of life in Greenwich Village, New York. It showed the diversity of people, thought, and services that a city offers.

     Is there someone you know who thinks hard about cities and knows how to get things done? Someone whom Keystone Crossroads should spend “Five Questions with …” Please let us know in the comment sections below or via Facebook or Twitter @Pacrossroads.

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