chapter  6
20 Pages

MARKET, STATE AND IDEOLOGY Society Hill

Emergent gentrification in the late 1950s and early 1960s quickly earned a symbolic currency that surely overreached its economic and geographical significance “on the ground.” A small but highly visible outlet for productive capital seeking a profitable resting place, gentrification seemed to promise a reversal of postwar residential decline and decentralization. Ideologies of gentrification quickly fastened on healthy neighborhoods where once there had been decay, profit where there had been poverty, the middle class back in the city: gentrification was “a good thing.” First conceived in the late 1950s, the gentrification of Society Hill in Philadelphia was an especially “good thing” and especially symbolic. Set between the Delaware River and Center City, the neighborhood occupied the site of William Penn’s seventeenth-century “holy experiment”: lying immediately to the south of Independence Hall, the Mall and the Liberty Bell, Society Hill was widely touted in Philadelphia tourist and historic preservation literature as part of “the most historic square mile in the nation” (Figure 6.1). By the late 1960s, this neighborhood of late-eighteenth-and early-nineteenth-century town houses had been repackaged both in the media and in academic urban geography, urban studies and sociology literatures as a centerpiece of a Philadelphia “renaissance” which, “since the 1960s,” according to one writer, “has been the most widely illustrated example of on-going comprehensive restructuring and systematic renewal of an historic urban core” (Morris 1975:148).