WHEN DEVELOPMENT proponents speak of the Philadelphia Land Bank as a step toward eliminating the city’s 40,000 vacant properties, I don’t visualize the empty houses and lots. I think of the people who once occupied those neighborhoods. I think of my own family.
In 1925, when my great-grandparents arrived in Philadelphia from Camden, South Carolina, they were searching for the kinds of opportunities that weren’t available to African Americans in the South. They came here with little more than hope.
They lived many places—always within the confines of segregated North Philadelphia neighborhoods like Sharswood. No matter how much they moved, however, my great-grandparents could never outrun the poverty they faced, nor completely solve the marriage issues that caused their eventual split. But in spite of it all, my great-grandmother, and my grandparents after her, helped build something more valuable than houses. They built communities.
Four generations later, those communities are crumbling.
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