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About Germantown and Living in Germantown

(Originally prepared for a workshop on social networking and neighborhood development, September 3, 2013.)

Germantown, a neighborhood in the Northwest section of Philadelphia, dates to 1681, when thirteen German families, fleeing religious persecution in their homeland, settled in the area. It was incorporated into the City of Philadelphia in 1854.

Today’s Germantown includes zip code 19144 and parts of zip code 19138. It has a population of approximately 44,000. It is predominantly African American (about 78%), with a substantial number of white residents (15%) and smaller numbers of other ethnic groups. Like many Philadelphia neighborhoods, it has suffered from the growth of suburbs—not only so-called “white flight,” but also the movement of retail and light industry to suburban locations.

Germantown has been through a difficult period, but, helped by initiatives like Living in Germantown (LiG), it is beginning a revival. Its strengths include excellent walkability, a strong artist community, a tradition of neighborhood activism, a large number of talented and involved people, and new partnerships with the City on improving commercial corridors and upgrading its major park.

Living in Germantown

Living in Germantown began as an effort to improve racial harmony. Its mission, as described by its founder, is

The Living in Germantown Facebook group grew out of a series of workshops, hosted by First Presbytarian Church in Germantown, involving Germantown residents from all parts of the community. It has 475 members. The membership includes many people who are active in community groups, so LiG's effective network is larger than its active membership would suggest.

LiG’s largest effort was a campaign to stop development of a shopping plaza near the Chelten Avenue Train Station. Although the project went ahead, the campaign led to the formation of a new and very active community development corporation. LIG has also helped the art community and generated support for a new local art gallery. It provides a forum for wide-ranging discussions of issues ranging from how to respond to the closure of Germantown High School to the impact of recent traffic detours on the neighborhood. Community groups regularly post notices there, and local businesses now post there as well.

Two Challenges for Social Networking

LiG, in common with other neighborhood social networks, faces at least two major challenges.

The first is making access to digital technology more readily available. In Germantown, about 40% of the population has limited or no access to the Internet. This problem, of course, is not entirely within our control, but it is important not only for Germantown but for many other neighborhoods.

Another challenge for LiG and Germantown as a whole is finding financing for projects. The discussions on LIG often include imaginative ideas for change that lack only one thing: money. LiG has helped with fundraising for a local non-profit art gallery, but its primary goal is not fundraising. I hope that financing will be the subject of the kind of thoughtful and intensive discussion that we have had on other issues.

Germantown garden watercolor © 2011 by Ruth A Seeley

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