Mapping gentrification in Philly by tracking permits


From coffee shops to fancy baby strollers: there are lots of signs gentrification is taking hold in a neighborhood. A new online map measures revitalization in a different way.

Jim Smiley grew-up in Northeast Philadelphia and wanted to try to understand the transformation he saw happening in Northern Liberties.

“I saw that there was revitalization and people moving in and buildings going up,” Smiley said. “You know you could see the blocks changing and you could see the blocks improving and being somebody who plays with computers and plays with data, I thought it would be really interesting to try and measure that.”

Smiley, a professional programmer and a self-described “civic hacker,” got to work.

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“It just occurred to me, ‘I wonder if you could count how many permits were issued in a neighborhood in one year and compare it to how many were issued in another year and measure that change? And would that tell you what neighborhoods were improving?’ So I set about implementing that.”

Smiley said the resulting Philadelphia Construction Permits by Neighborhood Heat Map looks like it’s tracking revitalization and gentrification pretty accurately.  But he said he’s not done: he’s considering adding changes in crime and is trying to find data on rent prices. Smiley said he hopes the map gives long-time Philadelphians the chance to see that once sketchy neighborhoods, may be improving.

He said he made the map to try to see where signs of revitalization and gentrification are unfolding.

“In Northeast Philadelphia, Kensington is a dirty word. All the parents of the friends that I grew up with said, ‘We’re never going to Kensington,’ ‘Kensington’s bad.’ They said the same thing about my neighborhood, Frankford. And that’s not necessarily, you know, correct anymore.”

Smiley said he hopes the map offers Philadelphians the chance to see which neighborhoods are changing, even if they never visit them.

One that’s highlighted as a hot spot?  Mill Creek in West Philadelphia where permit numbers grew more than 60 percent.

For the complete full-screen map go to:

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