Valerie Russ, Philly, March 3, 2014
People from all over Philadelphia came together Saturday to tell their stories about gentrification at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia.
Organizers had issued fliers calling for an “emergency town hall” to confront a “crisis facing black Philadelphia: the demise of our neighborhoods.”
Sister Empress Phile, one of the organizers, said the group will host more town halls and ask for more public meetings, including congressional hearings.
Ultimately, she said, the activists plan to appeal to the United Nations that gentrification is a human-rights violation–when economic-development policies displace one ethnic group with another.
“In the very near future, we are going to ask for accountability from our elected officials,” Phile said yesterday. “Questions have to be answered: How did this development occur? And what representatives within the community were contacted or notified?”
When he spoke, the Rev. Clarence A. Martin Sr.’s voice trembled with emotion.
He talked about clashes with some new neighbors in South Philadelphia, where the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church once stood, at 20th and Fitzwater streets.
Some new arrivals called police to complain about parking on Sundays and that the church services were “too loud.”
“There was one young man who walked his dog in front of the church and he let the dog defecate there,” Rev. Martin said.
“I asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to pick that up? And he said, ‘The dog’s got to go, what can I do about it?’ ”
Rev. Martin’s church was demolished in 2011 because the 150-year-old building was structurally unsound; the dwindling and elderly congregation could not afford to repair it.
A PowerPoint presentation showed the red-brick church, built in 1861. The next photo showed the boxy building with six condominiums, marketed at $700,000 each, that replaced it.