Urban Studies Senior Seminar Papers

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Suggested Citation:
Sundheim, Peter. "Convergence and Divergence: The Simultaneous Transformation of Old City Philadelphia." University of Pennsylvania, Urban Studies Program. 2007.


The development of Old City Philadelphia represents a unique transformation of the urban form. Development and land use patterns in Old City reveal two different subneighborhoods with two different groups of users. The first sub-neighborhood, which formed north of Market Street, can be generally explained using classical cultural gentrification models like those presented by Neil Smith and Sharon Zukin. However, more thorough analysis of this sub-neighborhood reveals a gentrification movement that was formed based on the convergence of ideal physical landscape, culture in the form of artists and art galleries, and financial capital, made possible by the Federal Historic Rehabilitations Tax Incentives. The area south of Market Street has evolved under much different development conditions, despite the close proximity of the two sub-neighborhoods. These differences were caused by the Old City Zoning Overlay, which attempted to protect the cultural and residential area north of Market Street by prohibiting restaurants and bars from opening there. Because of these differences, classical gentrification theories do not adequately explain patterns of development in the southern area. The south of Market Street’s transformation began when a marginal entrepreneur, Stephen Starr, opened Continental Restaurant and Martini Bar. His success attracted many other entrepreneurs, which began the evolution of the south of Market Street area into a Martini District. The conflicting development patterns caused by the Overlay have created two polarized sub-neighborhoods in Old City, with very little cross over use. This polarization exhibits the unintended consequences of universal zoning, and displays the shortcoming of a zoning system that must settle for compromise rather than promote best uses for optimal development. The case of Old City provides a unique example of residential and commercial redevelopment, the ways in which these types of areas development, and the interaction between these different land uses.


Urban Studies, Philadephia, development, land use



Date Posted: 28 July 2010