The “Live-Work-Play Vibe” in University City

Science Center - 3
Photo courtesy of


The reason I have “Live-Work-Play Vibe” in quotes, is because it was not my wording; but that from this article with Stephen Tang, CEO of the Science Center.

Live-Work-Play has been a common theme in urban areas across the US for the last decade or so. It symbolizes a lifestyle where local residents can live in a great neighborhood, get to work easily, and go out for drinks/dinner/shopping in the same neighborhood as both their home and job. Basically, it means that you have more free time to enjoy your life, rather than commute a long way to work or drive a far distance for entertainment.

This is the lifestyle you get whether you live in Center City, University City, or any other dense Philadelphia neighborhood. It’s a major reason why more people are choosing to live in cities today than in years past, and it’s also why Philadelphia is doing so well as a desirable place to live. Our city is designed to support that kind of lifestyle (e.g. dense, vertical, walkable, etc), and the infrastructure is there to build on it even more.

Once you think about it, the suburban lifestyle was built on the opposite: get a single family house with a yard, create space between you and your neighbors, and then park in your driveway/garage so that you can easily drive to work, the supermarket, the mall, Walmart, Target, you name it. It’s the complete opposite of the urban lifestyle.

Now to be honest and upfront, I personally do not feel that one is better than the other, as many different people have many different ideas/opinions on how to live their lives. I think there are pros and cons to both ways of life. Therefore, there is plenty of room for either lifestyle to exist in most large US metropolitan areas.

I have also helped both buyers and sellers in Philadelphia’s city proper, as well as in suburban Philadelphia, so I understand both sides and why people choose one over the other. Lastly, I have lived in both environments myself.

Alright, back to UCity and the Science Center.

To put things in perspective, the Science Center today has 17 buildings across 17 acres of land. It is considered to be the “oldest and largest urban research park in the US,” establishing itself in 1963. It currently employs 15,000 people, contributes almost $65M in tax revenue, and provides Philadelphia start-ups with the office and lab space they need to get their ideas off the ground.

In other words, the Science Center is a very large incubator.

If what you just read about SC isn’t large and significant enough for you, the organization plans to double in size over the next 10 years. The plan is to partner up with Wexford Science + Technology, expand to 4M square feet of office/lab/residential/retail, re-imagine the former University City High School, and build on additional open parcels to increase the size of the current campus.


I know, I know. When things are good in real estate (as well as in the general economy) grand visions seem to emerge everyday. We will build this, it will be the best ever, and people will come to us.

This project is different, and it’s planned around consistent/well-thought-out concepts: Philadelphia has many local universities and hospitals that can support this type of project, people around the world are just starting to discover how conveniently located Philadelphia actually is (to other major US markets, as well as its ease of access to the rest of the world), and Philadelphia is slowly becoming one of the top US hubs for the life sciences.

More information about the Science Center here, and more information about their growth plans here.

Comprehensive planning is taking place in Northwest Philadelphia

Image courtesy of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission

That’s right, my home-sweet-home.

Please bear in mind that Northwest Philadelphia is a large area (East Falls, Manayunk, Roxborough, Chestnut Hill, Mt Airy, and Germantown), which is why the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (aka PCPC) has separated NW Philadelphia into 2 sections: Upper Northwest and Lower Northwest.

The name of PCPC’s comprehensive plan is called “Philadelphia 2035.” It’s pretty cool, so check it out when you have time.

As for these two “districts,” Upper Northwest is basically any/all neighborhoods north of the Wissahickon Valley area (e.g. Chestnut Hill, Mt Airy, and Germantown), and the Lower Northwest district is any/all neighborhoods below it (e.g. East Falls, Manayunk, and Roxborough). Now if you really want to get technical, the Lower Northwest also includes smaller sections like Andorra, Shawmont Valley, and Wissahickon, but they are referred to as “enclaves” and are all part of Roxborough anyway (aka 19128).

Okay, so there’s our foundation. Now let’s chat about what’s going on.

From a resident’s standpoint, as I am one, there has been a lot of pressure from the neighborhood to stop and/or slow down some of the new construction development that has taken place over the last 10 years.


Well, there are a few reasons.

First, development in Manayunk/Roxborough (aka 19127 + 19128) has been a hotbed of activity in relation to the overall number of permits issued for the entire City of Philadelphia (see this article for more details). Second, some of the older/larger homes in Myk/Rox sit on large parcels of land. If the property needs a lot of work, it usually makes more financial sense to tear down and build multiple homes (which developers have already done, and without much/any community dialogue). Lastly, there is no comprehensive plan currently in place for developers to follow. Which basically means they can do whatever they want once the permit has been issued.

Hence, pressure from the local neighborhood.

From a real estate agent’s standpoint, as I am one as well, I have a front row seat. Meaning that my daily job is to help both buyers and sellers find what it is they’re looking for (a home, a rental, an investment), and explain either how it will benefit them to purchase it or not. So as both a resident and a real estate agent, I can see both sides.

How so?

Well, there are a few reasons.

First, the neighborhoods of Manayunk and Roxborough are great places to live. Biased? Maybe, but you can read more stats here that help support my opinion. Second, there is a lot of opportunity to buy Myk/Rox homes/land to live in, rent out, or rehab/build and resell. Lastly, when real estate developers look for spots to put their money (in the hopes of creating a return on their investment), there is a lot of opportunity to build new and rent/sell in both Manayunk and Roxborough.

Hence, there is opportunity in local real estate.

So as you can see, there are two sides to every story as well as pros/cons to both sides. I happen to see why both sides are doing what they’re doing, which is why I choose to remain neutral on the subject.

On the one hand, I want to see my local neighborhood thrive, improve, and remain one of the best neighborhoods in all of Philadelphia. On the other hand, I don’t want to see history/culture erased because money can be made.

It’s a tough subject to discuss, and I welcome any/all readers to chime in with comments. I’m also always happy to answer your questions as best I can.

Once more, here is the article that inspired this post.

The building boom has begun

One of Center City’s latest residential high-rises | 2116 Chestnut

At least, in the City of Brotherly Love, it has begun.

It’s been a long-time-coming, but the real estate market has finally started to pick up steam once again. Both residential and commercial projects (big and small) are popping up left and right, and in varying areas; underway and on-the-books. Center City, University City, The Navy Yard, as well as within many of Philadelphia’s different neighborhoods spread throughout the city.

In other words, it’s healthy growth.

The only issue that seems to be popping up is labor. When things were pumping back in the early 2000s, the construction industry was seeing record gains in both employment numbers as well as in profits.

When The Great Recession hit, the US lost 2 million construction jobs. Since that time, many of those workers retired, left the industry altogether, or got into another line of work. This is creating a shortage of specialized labor in Philadelphia, which in turn is causing prices to go up. High demand and low supply, prices go up.

So enough with the negative, as you all know that’s not my bag. Here’s a section from the article that caught my attention:

“A construction boom underscores a bigger trend at work,” said Stephen Mullin of Econsult Solutions. “It’s in response to a city embracing demographic shifts in people, including immigrants, wanting to live in urban areas. It’s an adjustment in people’s behavior on where they want to live, relax, and shop. Philadelphia is an attractive place to live, and the vibe and vitality of the city is infectious and generating a ton of infrastructure and capital investment to the tune of billions of dollars. We are nowhere near the end of that.”

Good stuff, Mullin. And right on point, if I do say so myself.

So, now that Mr. Mullin has named a few of the reasons why things are changing for the better in Philadelphia, here is a list of the larger, upcoming projects that are sure to keep that momentum going (“20-To-Watch,” as Natalie Kostelni from PBJ has coined it):

10 Big Projects – Under Way

– 38 Chestnut: 38th St & Chestnut St, $110M
– New College House on Hill Field: Bounded by 33rd, 34th, Walnut, & Chestnut Sts, $127M
– Southstar Lofts: 521-31 S Broad St, $32M
– 3601 Market St: 36th St & Market St, $110M
– Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Temple: 1601 Vine St, $70M
– Philadelphia Family Court: 15th St & Arch St, $160M
– Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Buerger Center: CHOP’s Main Campus, $425M
– EVO at Cira Centre South: 2930 Chestnut St, $160M
– Drexel University, Mixed-Use Project: Lancaster Ave & 34th St, $160M
– Wistar Institute: 3601 Spruce St, $100M
– Total, In-Progress = $1.454B

10 Big Projects – For The Future

– Comcast Innovation + Technology Center: 18th St & Arch St, $1.2B
– FMC Tower at Cira Centre South: 30th St & Walnut St, $340M
– 1919 Market St, Mixed-Use Project: $100M
– W Hotel: 1441 Chestnut St, $280M
– SugarHouse Casino, Expansion: 1001 N Delaware Ave, $155M
– Lincoln Financial Field, Expansion: 1 Lincoln Financial Field Way, $125M
– University of Pennsylvania, Neural Behavior Sciences Building: Between Leidy Labs at 3740 Hamilton Walk & Carolyn Lynch Labs at 433 S University Ave, $78.5M
– Temple University Library: N 13th St, $150M
– Rodin Square: 21st St & Hamilton St, $140M
– Total, On-The-Books = $2.568B

Wow, that’s an impressive list!

But in reality, it’s just the list showing major projects. This does not include smaller, infill development in neighborhoods like Northern Liberties, Francisville, Pennsport, Chestnut Hill, and even in my own ‘hood of Manayunk/Roxborough.

All of this activity will make the next few years in Philadelphia very exciting, as we start to see these projects come to life.