Temple Times Online Edition
    SEPTEMBER 16, 2004
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Philly, suburbs have much in common

A Temple team surveyed the region to learn about housing, socioeconomic and household trends.

Gathered around a Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project map of household incomes for the greater Philadelphia region are (from left) project coordinator Josh Freely; Institute for Survey Research center director Peter Mulcahy; cartographic lab manager Mark Mattson; geography and urban studies faculty members Carolyn Adams and David Bartelt; geography and urban studies graduate student Michelle Schmitt; and sociology faculty member David Elesh.

Whether the issue is racial diversity, taxes, threats to the environment or family involvement in the schools, counties surrounding Philadelphia and their residents have more in common with their counterparts in the city than is generally understood, Temple researchers said.

“The greater Philadelphia region no longer conforms to the conventional view of central cities as ‘melting pots,’ surrounded by homogeneous suburbs,” they wrote.

For example, the suburbs increasingly are home to minorities and foreign-born populations, while some sections of Philadelphia have highly homogeneous, U.S.-born populations.

The findings, based on analyses of census and other data and surveys of 1,000 households, are contained in the report “Where We Stand: Community Indicators for Metropolitan Philadelphia.” The report was prepared by Carolyn Adams, David Bartelt and Mark Mattson of geography and urban studies; David Elesh of sociology; Ralph Taylor of criminal justice; and Leonard LoSciuto and Peter Mulcahy of Temple’s Institute for Survey Research.

In their analysis, the researchers identify five types of communities, based on shared housing, socioeconomic and household characteristics: 1. struggling older communities; 2. solid older communities; 3. working-class communities; 4. middle-class suburbs; and 5. affluent suburbs. The report divides Philadelphia into 12 districts, some of which closely match the most affluent suburbs in many indicators, while other parts of the city have much more in common with working-class or struggling suburbs.

“This is the first comprehensive compilation of data about the region at the municipal, rather than county, level,” Provost Ira M. Schwartz said. “There are 353 municipalities and 196 school districts in this region. As a result, many policies and decisions are made at the local rather than regional level. These findings could form a basis for thinking and acting as a region about shared challenges and opportunities.”

“These findings, which will be updated annually, will be invaluable to researchers, civic and political leaders, and anyone else working to improve the quality of life in greater Philadelphia,” added Kathryn J. Engebretson, president of the William Penn Foundation, which funded the study with a three-year, $1.27 million grant.

While racial segregation remains relatively high throughout greater Philadelphia, blacks are rapidly taking to the suburbs, according to the report. During the 1990s, the black population in the suburbs increased by 70,000 people, climbing from 27 percent to 32 percent of all blacks living in the region. Much of the increase was concentrated in eight suburban communities: Abington, Chester Township, Pottstown and Upper Darby in Pennsylvania, and Burlington Township, Deptford, Glassboro and Gloucester Township in New Jersey.

In addition, many foreign-born immigrants to the region — who are more likely to hold college degrees than the regional population as a whole — are now choosing to move directly into suburban communities rather than the city. During the 1990s, Philadelphia and Camden combined gained 36,000 foreign-born residents; the suburbs gained almost twice as many — 69,000.

(Below) A socioeconomic conditions map from the Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project. It shows Philadelphia-area households with incomes of $100,000 or more, from unshaded (less than 10 percent of the population) to dark gray (more than 40 percent).

(Below) A civic participation chart showing residents’ engagement in community, broken into six community types. The top bar indicates “informal meeting with neighbors,” the middle bar indicates “block club meeting” and the bottom bar indicates “neighborhood meeting in a church.”


On a range of other issues, the researchers found striking similarities throughout the metropolitan area that transcend municipal boundaries.

Taxes: Resounding majorities throughout the region said they have not considered moving in order to pay lower taxes. “It would appear that despite people’s universal complaint that their taxes are too high, other aspects of their communities loom larger than taxes when they choose a place to live,” the researchers said. Regionwide, the most frequent reasons for choosing a place to live were housing costs and good schools. Also, “despite constant civic debate focused on the wage tax as the region’s least-popular tax,” more people in all parts of the region regard prevailing wage taxes as fair than regard property taxes as fair.

Environment: Hazardous waste generation, storage and transportation are ubiquitous throughout the region, as is the presence of protected lands and parks. Surprisingly, the researchers said, the strongest support for using taxes to build and maintain public parks occurs in affluent and middle-class suburbs, which have been built at lower densities and with larger lot sizes than older communities.

Schools: A majority in every community type in the region — urban and suburban — would pay higher taxes to improve schools, ranging from 73 percent support in Philadelphia to 60 percent in affluent suburbs. In no community type did a majority of residents believe the quality of their schools had increased during the past five years. Also, “contrary to the widely held view that suburban families participate in school affairs at higher levels than Philadelphia families, the survey found virtually no difference,” with about three-quarters of residents in both Philadelphia and the suburbs reporting at least one adult active in school affairs.

The report, available on the Web at www.temple.edu/mpip, includes detailed maps and data tables, search capabilities and links to other sites that provide data about metropolitan Philadelphia.

The analysis also compares metropolitan Philadelphia to eight other regions: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Phoenix and Pittsburgh. For example, despite the increases in black and foreign-born residents in Philadelphia’s suburbs, only the Detroit and Chicago areas ranked higher than greater Philadelphia in racial segregation among the comparison group.

Other findings include:
While households in struggling older communities were the most likely to say they had heard of students who are “afraid of being hurt at school,” more than one-quarter of households in working-class communities also report sharing that concern.

The region’s less-affluent communities donate a greater share of their income to nonprofits than do wealthier locales.

Although the 1990s included significant economic gains for much of the region, the communities where poverty increased during the decade included not only sections of Philadelphia but also a number of communities in suburban Delaware County.

While residents of the Philadelphia region typically boast about high rates of home ownership in their communities, struggling older communities have the highest levels of homes owned free and clear — with no mortgage. This indicates an absence of real estate activity or even home improvement loans in these areas, and may be a leading indicator of households locked in place by age, income and the problems of selling their homes should they wish to move.

Philadelphia’s access to automobiles ranks behind that of the comparison regions, although the city itself provides somewhat greater public transit access than is available elsewhere. Nevertheless, a lack of access to cars makes it difficult to reach many of the region’s job centers.

Employment in tourism will not be an economic panacea for the region. With the exception of Phoenix, the other metropolitan areas in the comparison group show an overall rate of 8 percent employment in tourism; the Philadelphia region shows 7 percent, leaving little room for growth.

- By Mark Eyerly

What people are saying…

  • Philadelphia Business Journal, July 20
    “Study: Foreign immigrants prefer suburbs to the city: Nearly twice as many settled outside as in the cities of Phila. and Camden”
  • Delaware County Times, July 20
    “Study: It’s property, not wage, taxes that irk”
  • Philadelphia Daily News, July 19
    “Suburbs are losing their ‘sub’: We're looking more and more like city slickers”