“It looks nice, but they’re still shooting like it’s Iraq out here,” said Shawn Govan when asked about all the new and rehabbed housing being built in the Ludlow neighborhood. This statement was promptly shot full of holes itself by several other residents of the area. Still, there is a kernel of truth in Shawn’s statement. It is not the statement itself, but what his making the statement says about the neighborhood.
By and large those who live and work in Ludlow seem to be in agreement that the area has significantly improved in recent years. Ludlow has made improvements in the past five years since the new housing developments have been built, and it has made quantum leaps and bounds in the past 20 years. “The neighborhood used to be buck-wild,” said Andrew Clark, a local plaster casting worker. The area looks nicer, the streets are cleaner, and the quality of the people living there has improved, according to the local residents and workers. However, in many ways like the architecture in Ludlow, the neighborhood has two faces. Just like Shawn Govan.
Brand new housing developments stand shinning directly beside crumbling and forsaken row homes from the early part of the 20th century. Down the block from those are public housing projects from the 1960s. They stand tarnishing in the sun. “It’s all 9-0-2-1-0 over there, and all Compton over here,” says Shawn Govan, referring to opposite sides of Marshall Street. Shawn went on to talk all about the nightly gunfire, and roving gangs he’s seen in his past four months on Marshall Street. He talked about how the drug dealers run the neighborhood.
One man, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, also sees some problems when asked about the character of the neighborhood and whether it had changed with the new housing, the man pointed to his nose. A crease runs diagonally across the bridge of the man’s nose like it had been broken in a boxing match. “Five years ago, I got jumped by a bunch of guys. They do it just for fun. Now that doesn’t happen,” he said. He went on to talk about how the neighborhood has improved. He said he used to hear gunfire every night, but that now it was a rarity. He also said that the new houses look nice, but a few people do sell drugs out of them.
His words speak to the changing character of the neighborhood. Ludlow is a neighborhood in flux. See this slide slow of the sides of the same street, which look like they could be in different cities.
The same is true of the people. Two people on the same block will tell you drastically different stories. The physical qualities of the neighborhood reflect the people. The two are very much linked. Several new housing projects have begun in the last few years, and these are the reason why the neighborhood can almost appear to be two different worlds.
The new development and housing are fueled largely by the efforts of non-profit community development corporations.
These include the Association of Puertorriqueños en la Marcha, and the Ed Bacon Foundation. Ludlow was the subject of the Ed Bacon Foundation’s 2008 neighborhood design competition, the most popular to date. Gregory Heller, president of the Ed Bacon Foundation, said: “It was a very experimental area in the 1960s. It was the first example of scattered sight public housing anywhere. That didn’t work out so well.
“It presented a lot of really interesting design challenges with so much vacant land, and the city’s definite preference for suburban style housing, instead of row homes.” Again, these problems along with the uniformity of the landscape are the same problems that manifest themselves in the identity crisis of the neighborhood
The new homes are strictly for sale—no renters. This is meant to encourage people to make a long-term investment in their community. Along with a highly transient
population often comes a high crime rate. Keeping homeowners in their properties and in the neighborhood longer also prevents the high rate of vacancy that once plagued the area. Attracting new owners to the area brings new people into the neighborhood. This is a stark departure from for the mass exodus and turnover that occurred in Ludlow from the late 1940s and continued into the 1980s.
The rental properties are slowly disappearing and with them the people that occupied the neighborhood for the past 40 years. The neighborhood is turning into the suburbs of Center City, one housing authority worker put it. Unless they already own their properties the renters can no longer afford to live in Ludlow. This is why Ludlow is a neighborhood facing a crisis of identity.