In Cedarbrook, a decline in numbers - and in values?

Jeanette Butler (left), 64, loves Cedarbrook's tree-lined streets. Jasmin Edwards (above), 23, with daughters Azeeza, 2, and Asiani, 9 months, returned to Cedarbrook after finishing college.
Jeanette Butler (left), 64, loves Cedarbrook's tree-lined streets. Jasmin Edwards (above), 23, with daughters Azeeza, 2, and Asiani, 9 months, returned to Cedarbrook after finishing college.
Posted: April 11, 2011

This story is part of a series on the changing face of Philadelphia as reflected in the new 2010 census figures.

SINCE RETURNING to live in Cedarbrook, the Rev. Lamont Anthony Wells has witnessed dramatic changes to that area of Northwest Philadelphia - a decline in educational values, in pride, in people returning after college.

"In the '80s and early '90s, everybody worked and went to school. Now, they're home more and are idle," said Wells, senior pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church, in neighboring Stenton. "I can walk out here now and see some young men and some women just hanging out."

The Cedarbrook, Stenton and Ivy Hill sections of East Mount Airy - a rectangular pocket of Northwest Philly bordered by Montgomery County, Stenton Avenue and Washington Lane - lost 2,164 residents, or about 8 percent of its population, from 2000 to 2010, according to census data released last month.

During that decade, this bedroom community of mostly middle-class African-American families lost 2,192 black residents and 181 white residents. The gain of other population segments and ethnicities did little to offset the loss.

But just as telling as the neighborhood's population loss is the roughly 18 percent decline in average household income from 1999 to the 2005-09 period, a time when the nation suffered a major recession. Income dipped to about $53,000 in 2005-09, according to census sampling, compared with about $65,000 in 1999, after adjusting for inflation to 2009 figures.

Neighboring parts of Northwest Philly also saw similar population declines. West Oak Lane and East Mount Airy south of Stenton Avenue each lost about 1,200 people, and East Germantown lost about 1,600 people.

The pull to elsewhere

Some residents in and around Cedarbrook attribute the population loss to older folks whose kids have grown up and moved out, who then decided to move to the suburbs, Center City or even the South. Others attribute the decline to people moving out because of a perceived increase in crime, to more youths hanging out on street corners, to a deterioration of the stable family unit.

That migration from the neighborhood in some ways mirrors a national trend. Black families from cities in the Northeast and Midwest have been moving to the South for better economic opportunities, or to the wealthier suburbs, as their white counterparts did in the post-World War II era.

The percentage of all American blacks living in the South today, about 57 percent, is the highest since 1960, the New York Times reported.

Clement Price, a professor of history at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., added that "collapsing job prospects, decayed housing, the drug wars" have attributed to blacks leaving northern cities.

"Blacks who can get out of urban centers like Philadelphia, like Newark, like Detroit will do so," he said. "Some people seem to be going to the first rung of suburbs" or "going south."

Philadelphia as a whole lost about 1,800 black residents from 2000 to 2010, representing a mere 0.3 percent decline.

After growing up in Cedarbrook, Jasmin Edwards, 23, went to nearby Cheyney University and returned to her parents' house after graduating, unlike some of her peers.

She believes that other people left the neighborhood because the "younger generation is getting worse, more violent."

Eudora Wilson, 64, who has lived in Cedarbrook for 32 years, said that "a lot of people moving up here now, they don't have a father figure in the home. I think a lot of people migrated here from North Philly."

Previously, kids were in their homes by 8 p.m., she said. Now, they hang outside playing loud music until midnight.

Sighed Wilson: "When I win the lottery, I'd be moving out, too!"

A changing area

Wells, 37, said that when his grandparents moved from North Philly to Michener Avenue, in Cedarbrook, in the late 1960s, they were the first African-American family on their block.

His mother attended Leeds Middle School, in Stenton, which was then predominantly Jewish.

By the mid-1970s, when Wells was growing up in Cedarbrook in his grandparents' house, the "white flight to the suburbs" had started and the area transformed into a stable, black, middle-class neighborhood, Wells said.

Cedarbrook in the 1970s was a nice place to live, he said.

There was "a level of pride. Now, there's no pride in how we keep our streets," Wells said.

There used to be block captains and block-cleanup days. That appeared to end with the new millennium and a "high sense of individualism," he said.

He recalled the 1980s as a time when youth sports leagues were active and "you were a part of these things."

Wells said that his generation went to college, and many people did not return to the city, contributing to the "brain drain." He left the city to attend Morehouse College, in Georgia, and didn't return to Cedarbrook until 2008, when his grandparents were sick and there was an opening at Reformation Lutheran Church.

The Cedarbrook area is "a very guarded community now," he said. "It's not as free. There's a lot of fear and trepidation rather than the wholesome, comfortable feel that once was."

Still, Wells thinks that "there will be a semi-upswing" in the neighborhood with young families moving into the area in recent years and businesses trying to revive.

The Rev. Alyn E. Waller, senior pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, which expanded into Cedarbrook in 2006 with a mega-church on Pickering Avenue and Vernon Road, is very close to the youth in the community.

Efforts to revitalize the area around Temple University, in North Philadelphia, has pushed gangs and drug dealers to Germantown and Mount Airy, making those neighborhoods less stable and "undesirable for some to live in," he said.

Separately, some older people have retired and have moved to condos in the suburbs, he said. And there's the natural migration of younger people wanting to live in a different neighborhood from their parents, he said.

Going back two generations, African-American families lived in North Philly, he said. Then, their children moved to Germantown. Then, their offspring moved to Mount Airy. Now, the next generation wants to live in Montgomery County, Waller said.

Crime in the area has been a mixed picture, according to Philadelphia Police statistics for the 14th District, which includes Cedarbrook, Stenton and Ivy Hill. There were 14 murders in 2006 but 26 last year, including the shocking slaying of 87-year-old George Greaves, a World War II veteran who was shot outside his home, allegedly by two teenagers who tried to rob him.

On the other hand, robberies decreased in the 14th District, from 611 in 2006 to 437 in 2010.

Tree-lined streets

Jeanette Butler, 63, loves living on Thouron Avenue in Stenton. She moved to her two-story rowhouse with its rolling lawn in 1980 from a duplex apartment in Germantown. She wanted a tree-lined street and access to public transportation and "that's what I got," she said.

She doesn't see abandoned buildings or people hanging out on corners in this bedroom community of brick rowhouses and single-family homes. And she said she's seen improvements in the shops on Wadsworth Avenue and Vernon Road.

State Rep. Cherelle Parker, who represents Mount Airy and part of Chestnut Hill, praised Cedarbrook and Stenton as some of the most stable, high-voting and high-homeownership neighborhoods.

She also pointed to revitalization efforts on the Ogontz Avenue and Wadsworth Avenue business corridors as positive signs.

"When you say population loss to me, I can think of some other neighborhoods where they have had a significant loss, and it may not be a positive one," she said.

In this neighborhood, "I don't think the loss of population is reflective of any negative stigma," she said. "I think the region is being progressive with children moving out [for college] and starting their own lives."

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