Northeast of Broad Street and the Vine Street Expressway is where Chinatown and an emerging loft district meet.
The neighborhood bustles with small businesses, row houses are being fixed up, and old warehouses are being converted into apartments and condos. It’s convenient to Center City, with great views of the skyline, but it’s also afflicted with vacant lots, trash, graffiti, and unkempt spaces along the old Reading Railroad viaduct.
The area needs more public services than a cash-strapped city can give it with today’s tight budgets, which is why some businesses and residents are trying to form a neighborhood improvement district. That’s a good idea.
Property owners would agree to pay a fee for services like cleaning up trash and graffiti within their neighborhood. The new services would be overseen by a board of directors from the community, so the fee revenue wouldn’t just disappear at City Hall.
Improvement districts formed by business owners have worked well in other parts of the city, but this would be the first that includes so many residential properties. Some residents object to the proposal, fearing the fee, equal to 7 percent of their property-tax bill, would break their limited budgets.
Chinatown residents of Asian heritage in particular fear that higher property values will eventually drive them out of the area, especially if a plan to redevelop the Reading viaduct as an aboveground park and trail is carried out.
Those are legitimate concerns, and the residents’ objections have led Councilman Frank DiCicco to shrink the proposed district, most notably excluding a middle-class housing development at Eighth and Vine. Proponents also agreed to write the district’s charter so none of its money could be used to turn the Reading viaduct into a park.
In October, the revised proposal will get a second hearing by City Council, then property owners have their say. The district can be vetoed by a majority of property owners in the neighborhood, or by owners representing a majority of assessed property value in the affected area.
It would be unfortunate to see this good idea die. The Callowhill-Chinatown North neighborhood is tattered around the edges, but it’s on the way up. It could become an even better place to live and work, if a neighborhood improvement district is formed.
For more photos of the neighborhood, click the tabs at the top of the web page.