Class-Divided Cities: Philadelphia Edition

The ninth in our series exploring the class divides across America's largest cities and metros.

This is ninth of a series of posts that explore the class divides across America's largest cities and metros. Using data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey, each explores the geography of class within a large city and metro area. For a detailed description of methodology, see the first post in the series.

The map above charts class concentrations for the city of Philadelphia. Each colored space on the map is a Census tract, an area within the city or county that can be even smaller than a neighborhood.

Philadelphia's class divide is pronounced. Its neighborhoods run the gamut from leafy townhouse enclaves to some of the country's most disadvantaged communities.

There are two major creative class clusters (purple areas on the map) in the city proper. The first is in and around the urban core in the Center City; the second is to the west in Chestnut Hill and Manayunk-Roxborough.

The downtown creative cluster is located amid the skyscrapers of the central business district and Center City East, where the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center, the Federal Courthouse and the Federal Reserve branch are found. Extending north for a mile and a half between City Hall and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Fairmount is the tree-lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which extends through a "Museums District" where the Rodin Museum, the Central Library, the Franklin Institute, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the new home of the Barnes Foundation are all located on or near it. Also in Center City is Rittenhouse Square, an upscale neighborhood filled with expensive department stores, boutiques, and destination restaurants, Society Hill, with its refined historic homes; South Street, Philadelphia's Greenwich Village, and a short distance to the north, Northern Liberties, another hipster redoubt.

Matisse's "Dance" Mural in the Barnes Foundation Museum on May 16, 2012. (Tim Shaffer/Reuters)

Eugenie Birch, chair of the Graduate Group in City and Regional Planning and co-director of the Penn Institute for Urban Research at the University of Pennsylvania, points out in an email that the creative class cluster in and around Center City "is a testimony to 50 years of urban revitalization policy." She notes Ed Bacon's early and important "work in restoring Society Hill in the 60s that has had a defined spillover north and south along the waterfront." In Center City, she adds, "whose late 20th century revival has taken place under the leadership of former mayor Ed Rendell and Paul Levy, head of the Center City District who worked mightily and early on residential conversions and anchor institution investments in arts, health, education, culture and sports that have attracted the creative class."

Across the Schuylkill River from City Center is West Philadelphia's University City, where the University of Pennsylvania and its world-renowned hospital and medial campus as well as Drexel University are located. The ongoing revitalization of the area over the past decade stems in large part from pioneering efforts of the University of Pennsylvania in local place-making and neighborhood building. Birch points to the role of the university and its two recent presidents (link added):

Judith Rodin's (who was president of Penn from 1994 to 2004) West Philadelphia Initiatives that included supporting a public school, housing subsidies, retail -- supermarket/theater -- and other public realm amenities, have been complemented by Amy Gutmann's (Penn president since 2004) Penn Connects plan with its links back to Center City, solidified by the 24 acre brownfield-restored Penn Park. This steady growth, in the face of the deindustrialization that cities of the northeast and midwest have experienced, has led to the arresting of population losses in Philly, an important accomplishment.

The city's second major creative class district is to the west and north. Chestnut Hill is a long-established affluent neighborhood that houses many of the city's elites. Along with its mansions — a number of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places — are upscale boutiques, destination restaurants, and Chestnut Hill College; Arcadia and Philadelphia universities are close by. Mount Airy, filled with large gray-stone Victorian, Colonial Revival, and Norman and Cotswold-style houses and mansions has long been considered a model of integration and multi-culturalism. Roxborough and Manayunk have easy access to downtown via major transit (SEPTA) lines. Manayunk has gone through a striking transformation, from a blue collar working class neighborhood into a more artsy, upper middle class district.

There are several other smaller creative class concentrations throughout the city, among them Fox Chase to the north, home to the Fox Chase Cancer Center. Directly to the west of Center City, on the city line, is Wynnefield*, a predominantly African American middle class neighborhood that includes Saint Joseph's University. 

Most of the city, however, is a sea of service class red. Large swaths of it — especially in the hard-hit northern districts — have been hollowed out economically and suffer from substantial distress. Many of these neighborhoods also have a rich history of street-level creativity. Ethel Waters moved to Philadelphia from nearby Chester; Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane relocated there from the south; Sun Ra based his legendary musical collective there. Early rock-'n'-roll owes much to Philadelphia, from Bill Haley to Dick Clark, Chubby Checker, and Fabian. The Philadelphia soul sound of the 1960s and 1970s produced such sensations as The Spinners, The O'Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (featuring Teddy Pendergrass), and Patti LaBelle and influenced such successful white commercial acts as Todd Rundgren's Nazz and Hall & Oates. The rappers Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff both grew up in Philadelphia.

Strikingly absent from the map (with the one exception of Juniata Park) are significant working class concentrations, identified on the map in blue. This is startling in a city that was an early manufacturing powerhouse, a center for ship-building, railroad manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, not to mention manufacturing capabilities in beer, candy, and even brooms. One historically blue collar enclave is Fishtown, to the northeast of Center City. The area is rapidly gentrifying, as the economist and blogger Adam Ozimek reminded me, but it still retains much of the Irish working class character that led Charles Murray to use it as the blue collar foil for creative class Belmont, Massachusetts, in his book Coming Apart.

City with Most Violent Crime (with a per capita income under $13,000, about 33.5 percent of Camden's families and 36 percent of the population live below the poverty line), as well as such affluent suburbs such as Cherry Hill and Moorestown-Lenola. To the south, it encompasses Wilmington, Delaware, and its surroundings. The metro is the nation's sixth largest, home to roughly six million people and producing $350 billion in economic output [PDF], making it a slightly larger economy than either Thailand's or Denmark's.

The map to the right (click for larger image) charts the geography of class for the greater metropolitan area of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia metro extends across three states. It includes the wealthy suburbs of Philadelphia's Main Line and Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, and Chester counties. Across the Delaware River in New Jersey are distressed Camden, which recently surpassed Flint, Michigan for the dubious title of

The heart of the metro is solid creative class purple, running from downtown through Manayunk-Roxborough and Chestnut Hill/Germantown in the western part of the city, through the super-affluent Main Line suburbs to the west and all the way north to Norristown and Gettysburg. Philadelphia's Main Line suburbs grew up along the Pennsylvania Railroad right of way that runs parallel to Lancaster Avenue or Route 30, from Overbrook just past the city limits through Bryn Mawr, Radnor, and all the way out to Paoli. They make up one of the nation's oldest suburban areas and include some of the richest towns and townships in the U.S. (Bloomberg Businessweek ranked Gladwyne's zip code the nation's seventh richest in 2011; Villanova's was number 30). This area is also the setting for David Brooks's famous Bobos in Paradise, which features the latte-sipping members of the bohemian-bourgeoisie who have "one foot in the bohemian world of creativity and another foot in the bourgeois realm of ambition and worldly success." There are many colleges and universities along this stretch, including Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Villanova. Swarthmore College is to the south in Delaware County, in an area that was historically a Quaker center and is now an affluent suburb.

The red service class extends outwards to the metro's periphery — a pattern we have seen in many of the metros in this series. To the east, south, and north of downtown, as Ryan Dicce, a global academic fellow at NYU Abu Dhabi who hails from the Philadelphia area and provided research assistance for this piece points out, the red areas tend to follow I-95 — the major north-south highway on the East Coast. This band includes the former shipbuilding and auto manufacturing center of Chester, which has a high percentage of its population living below the poverty line.

The lack of substantial working class concentrations are as notable on the metro map as they are on the city map. There are just three small blue specks indicating significant working class concentrations — in and around in Camden, which was once home to tens of thousands of ship building jobs and RCA, and which is still home to Campbell Soup Company; around Wilmington and Dover, Delaware to the south, historical home to the chemical giant DuPont; and northeast towards Trenton, New Jersey. AstraZeneca, Dow, Cephalon, Endo, West, GlaxoSmithKline, and Auxilium are a few of the large chemical and pharmaceutical companies with a presence in the area.

The next map is interactive: Click on a tract to see the percentages of each of the three major classes across the Philadelphia metro.

The creative class includes people who work in science and technology, business and management, arts, culture, media and entertainment, law, and healthcare professions. All told, its ranks make up 34.6 percent of the metro's workers, slightly above the national average of 32.6 percent. These are high-skilled, highly-educated, and high-paying positions which average $76,694 per year in wages and salaries, also higher than the national average of $70,890. The creative class makes up more than half of all residents in roughly one in five of the metro's census tracts.

Top 10 Creative Class Locations in the Philadelphia Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Creative Class Share
Center City West, Philadelphia (8.01) 87.5%
Fairmount-Spring Garden, Philadelphia (125) 84.1%
Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia (231) 80.0%
Center City West, Philadelphia (8.04) 78.4%
Center City West, Philadelphia (4.01) 77.9%
Fairmount-Spring Garden, Philadelphia (136.01) 77.6%
Center City East, Philadelphia (9.01) 77.3%
Center City East, Philadelphia (11.02) 77.2%
Center City East, Philadelphia (10.02) 75.9%
Center City East, Philadelphia (8.03) 75.6%
Metro Average 34.6%

 

All 10 of the top creative class tracts are in the city, most of them in and around the Center City. This might come as a surprise, given the historic concentration of the city's wealth in its suburbs. The creative class makes up between 76 and 88 percent of residents in these tracts. Two are in Fairmount-Spring Garden, a rapidly gentrifying area near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Chestnut Hill, mentioned above, has long been one of the most affluent areas in Philadelphia: It is essentially a Main Line suburb within the city limits.

The service class entails low-wage, low-skill work in food service and preparation, retail sales, and clerical and administrative positions. This is the largest class of workers in Philadelphia, making up 47.5 percent of the region's workforce, slightly higher than the national average of 46.6 percent. Service workers in the metro average $31,693 in wages and salaries, higher than the national average of $30,597, but just 40 percent of what the region's creative class workers make. The service class makes up half of all residents in roughly 30 percent of the metro's census tracts — about the same as Detroit.

Top 10 Service Class Locations in Philadelphia Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Service Class Share
West Chester, PA (3104) 85.7%
Philadelphia (71.01) 77.6%
Hartranft, Philadelphia (164) 76.2%
Allegheny West, Philadelphia (173) 75.8%
Germantown, Philadelphia (279.02) 75.7%
Brewerytown, Philadelphia (138) 75.1%
Allegheny West, Philadelphia (172.01) 75.1%
Tioga-Nicetown, Philadelphia (201.02) 74.6%
Darby, PA (4026) 74.6%
Allegheny West, Philadelphia (172.02) 74.5%
Metro Average 47.5%

 

Eight of the top 10 service class locations are in the city as well. The service class makes up between 75 and 86 percent of residents in these tracts. Most are in the city's hard-hit northern section. Brewerytown is a former center for the brewing industry as its name implies, and is close to Girard College and Temple University. Recent gentrification has raised both property values and social tensions. Hartranft is a low income neighborhood close to Temple University. The large percentage of service class workers in suburban West Chester likely reflects food prep and clerical occupations tied to West Chester University and the county courthouse.

Though Germantown is contiguous with affluent Chestnut Hill and filled with well-preserved colonial era houses, it suffered from white flight starting as early as the 1930s; many of its residents undoubtedly work in Chestnut Hill. Darby — the birthplace of W.C. Fields, who is rumored to have proposed that something akin to "I would rather be living in Philadelphia" be carved on his tombstone — is a suburb in Delaware County; it is a town of about 10,000 but with an urban character and a low median income.

Members of the working class are employed in factory jobs as well as transportation and construction. It accounts for 17.8 percent of the region's workers, less than the national average of 20.5 percent. The metro's blue-collar workers average $40,539 per year in wages and salaries, significantly better than the national average for these blue-collar jobs, $34,015, but just 48 percent of what the region's creative class workers make.

Top 10 Working Class Locations in the Philadelphia Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Working Class Share
Camden, NJ (6011.01) 50.5%
Tinicum Township, PA (4037.01) 47.1%
Hunting Park, Philadelphia (383) 44.7%
Penns Grove, NJ (202) 44.4%
Hunting Park, Philadelphia (198) 43.5%
Coatesville, PA (3056) 42.5%
Kensington, Philadelphia (161) 41.0%
Croydon, PA (1003.02) 40.8%
Hunting Park, Philadelphia (199) 40.7%
Croydon, PA (1003.06) 40.5%
Metro Average 17.8%

 

Only four of the top working class tracts are in Philadelphia itself. Tinicum is close to the Philadelphia International Airport, reflecting a trend we have seen in many metros in this series. Penns Grove — which Orson Welles put on the map when he had the Martians land there in his The War of the Worlds broadcast — was formerly home to a major DuPont Plant; many of its residents work at a nuclear power plant in nearby Hancock's Bridge. Far to the west in Pennsylvania Dutch country, Coatesville is a formerly prosperous steel town that has recently experienced decline. Its population is about 38 percent white, 23 percent Hispanic, and 46 percent African American; some 22 percent of its population lives below the poverty line.

There is just one tract (0.07 percent of the metro's total) where the working class makes up more than half of all residents, and that is in hard-hit Camden — perhaps a tribute to its past strengths as an industrial powerhouse. This is the lowest of any metro in this series, including post-industrial Washington, D.C. and service-dominated Miami — a striking illustration of how thoroughly the region has been deindustrialized.

My next post in this series will look at Boston.

Prior posts in this series:

All maps by MPI's Zara Matheson.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the Wynnefield neighborhood as Wynnewood. We regret the error.

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here