Manayunk: Generational Conflict

Beer cans litter the streets of Manayunk on a Saturday morning.]

Every Friday night the streets of Manayunk are littered with empty beer bottles and drunken college students stumbling back to their homes.  The locals are tired of it and are demanding a change.

The Manayunk Neighborhood Council, a non-profit civic association that advocates for a clean, safe and quiet Manayunk, is determined to battle the outcome of a flow of college students who have changed the infrastructure of a neighborhood once known for its family-oriented social setting.

Crowds of young people stroll down Main Street in Manayunk.

According to the University of Pennsylvania’s database on Philadelphia neighborhoods, there are 266 vacant properties in Manayunk, and many of them are expected to be snatched by incoming college students seeking affordable housing. However, most of the students are forecasted to become temporary residents departing after graduation, creating a rift between younger crowds searching for a quick housing fix and community veterans disappointed in the birth of for-rent residencies.

Darlene Messina, the director of community livability for the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, professed her frustration with the neighborhood’s cultural and social shifts by verifying the important role that families incorporate into the community that has only recently deteriorated.

“I am extremely disappointed with the path [Manayunk] has taken,” Messina said.  “Changes have negatively impacted the quality of life.”

For Messina, stay-at-home mothers and families that have settled into the neighborhood provide a safety net that young professionals and mobile college residents simply cannot offer. People that are in their homes during the day can act as community watchdogs and keep an eye on suspicious behavior, something busy college students can’t do while taking classes.

“Older generations are the eyes and ears of the community,” Messina said.  “The neighborhood has changed dramatically since I’ve moved here.”

Beer cans litter the streets of Manayunk on a Saturday morning.

The most common complaint coming from what she called “the older demographic” is late-night partying and loud noises that keep residents from sleeping.  To Messina, even college students get tired of the party atmosphere that eventually pushes them out of the community and invites more students into the neighborhood — a cyclical issue.

“Seventy-five percent of Manayunk residents are temporary and most are under the age of 30,” Messina said.  “[The students] get to behave irresponsibly.  Manayunk has a really bad image in terms of its party atmosphere.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18- to 24-year-olds represent 16.3 percent of the Manayunk population, creating a disparity between U.S. government records and Messina’s claim.  Though whether or not that demographic consists of temporary or permanent residents is difficult to track.

Cheap drink specials attract students to Manayunk bars each weekend.

But an accumulation of beer bottles and miscellaneous trash after a busy Friday evening on Main Street has added credibility to Messina’s concerns. She and other community watchdogs into the early Saturday hours often hear factions of stumbling, drunken college students, causing many within the community to complain to city officials – at one point even to former Councilman Michael Nutter, who has yet to echo Messina’s pleas as the mayor of Philadelphia.

City regulations forbid more than three residents to live in rental row homes – an issue that Messina said isn’t regularly enforced and causes property values to plummet.  In addition, low taxes in the area don’t compensate for extra public services required to clean up trash abandoned by partying college students.

But not all hope is lost, nor does everyone agree with Messina’s position.

Some residents, including 21-year-old Charlotte Marshall, who lives on Baldwin Street, said they believe the neighborhood is more family-oriented than most people think.

Manayunk resident Charlotte Marshall speaks fondly of her neighborhood.

“I like how there are families living on my street,” Marshall said.  “It’s not just kids partying.  I feel safer.”

Although her opinion may seem like an anomaly to some, she encouraged people to appreciate Manayunk’s proximity to transportation hubs as well as the affordability and safety of the neighborhood.  She even joked about a neighbor possessing live chickens–something that may resemble communities separated from an urban stereotype.

“I don’t see many young families and I would never settle down here,” Marshall admitted. To organizations like the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, this presents a serious flaw when attempting to revert back to Manayunk’s family routes.

When Messina criticized the modifications occurring in a neighborhood she has been a resident of for over 20 years, she made sure to emphasis her devotion and love to a neighborhood rich in inter-generational trends, but couldn’t help but reiterate troubling patterns.

“Weeds are growing,” Messina said.  “I have this distaste for Manayunk now.  And an ideal Manayunk isn’t possible.”

Main Street Manayunk continually changes to meet the needs of its residents.

In her view, college students are attracted to the area because they think they will get a taste of the urban life, which to her Manayunk isn’t necessarily about.

She said she hopes that city officials will consider her concerns.

“We could improve the quality of life by 25 percent with better cooperation with the police department and other regulators.  I’m not against students, but there are just too many of them.”

After a brief pause, Messina said, “There’s a small group of us that continue to be hopeful.”



  1. There’s no value in lamenting the past. Every neighborhood in this city has changed drastically over the decades, many for the worse. It’s too bad that many of this woman’s neighbors have moved, but that’s really her problem. Not Manyunk. The reinvention of Manyunk has been an incredible boon for the area, and is a great success story for a city that struggles to attract new residents. Nowhere in this one-sided piece does it mention the dramatic rise in property values that have undoubtedly made this woman’s property much more valuable than it was back in her nostalgic, mythical hey day (which never really existed btw, there was a time when Manyunk had much worse problems than drunken college students). This idea of clinging to some idealized version of a neighborhood is cynical and futile. Healthy cities are dynamic.

  2. Sorry, was referring to the video, not the article. And, in spite of what empty beer bottles might do for this person’s property value in the short term, there is no question that property values in manyunk have increased dramatically over the last 20 years thanks to the influx of young people. Would she rather live in Greys Ferry, or Strawberry Mansion? Few drunk college kids there….

  3. in response to “20 something”. I think it would smart to refer to recent data on property valuations found on and the US census. Housing and commercial properties have all fallen since their peak in 2005. I have seen some data suggesting a 25% reduction in Manayunk. Also many houses can no longer sell for an amount where the real estate speculators can recoup their investment; that house becomes an instant rental property.
    In 2000 59% of Manayunk was listed as rental properties and newer data suggets it is now closer 75% That’s not a “vital new phase” for a neighborhood but instead a death sentence.
    I don’t think Ms Messina was holding out for a return of the neighorhood to some glorious golden age but was rightfully worried about it devolving into mirroring other sections of Philadelelphia that are controlled and eventually ruined by absentee landlords.
    I do agree with “20 something” that college aged or mid twenty somethings bring new vitality to an area. They are part of the rich tapestry that makes up a healthy city neigborhood. This howevercomes with responsibilities, regestering to vote, not having your car registered and insured back in upstate NY with your parents and partipating in the give and take of row house and urban living. A full 50% of my block of Manayunk Ave is now absenetee owned. The tenants without exception drink to all hours of the night, do not clean their sidewalks including when it snows. These rental houses have as many as 6 people living in them which besides being illegal is making parking a total nightmere. So yes we welcome all people to our neighborhhoods but not to use it as a temporary party pad base until they grow up and move to what they perceive as a respectable suburban neighorhood!

  4. I know this article is about how the college kids and younger generation are bringing down Manayunk but they are not always the ones causing the problems. I was at Spanky’s this past weekend and witness something I hope I never have to see again.

    They say support the local places but why support a local place when people like this go there. I saw the bouncer watch some kid get jumped right outside the door. The kid was blindsided then thrown into the rock wall outside head first. The kid laid lifeless on the ground as the bouncer waited to call the cops so the 40 year old guys who jumped the kid could run away.Not only did they set up this poor kid the bouncer and “friends” laughed about it after words in the bar. I had to leave I was so disgusted. Doesn’t this sound like a great place to grab a drink.

  5. The climate of Manayunk has changed many times in the past few decades going from a stable family oriented community to a transient society. No one is against change but when change inpacts the quality of life it needs to be addressed. College students I applaude your efforts to improve your standing through education but please be considerate as your neighbors may be elderly or have young children. Last week new grads celebrated by shooting fireworks out their chimney not only endangering themselves, the house but the homes of their neighbors. My home has been in my family for over 100 years and to have it endangered by your drunken antics was not appreciated. If you want to live here conform to residential living. Main Street is Party Central not the surrounding neighborhoods.

    Re: North Light
    North Light is a valuable asset to the community and should be applauded and supported. My daycare children have supported to the Food Pantry but now knowing how much more support is needed will make regular contributations. Irene, thanks so much for your kindnesses to my kiddies and I will make sure this kindness will not go unrewarded.

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