The State of Preservation in Philadelphia: The Historic Preservation Task Force Releases its First Report

March 14, 2018 by Erica Stewart

The Philadelphia Historic Preservation Task Force released their first report since the 33-member group of planners, developers, preservationists, elected officials, and community members was convened by Mayor Kenney last spring. The report serves as an overview of the current state of historic preservation in the city, focusing on the four major areas addressed by the subcommittees of the Task Force: regulation, survey, incentives, and outreach and education. Key findings are listed below.

This undertaking stems from a recognition that Philadelphia’s population and economy is growing, making it an important time to evaluate the existing policies, operations, and laws that impact Philadelphia’s historic neighborhoods, buildings, and cultural fabric for the benefit of all present and future residents. Future reports will identify specific issues to be addressed, best practices in these areas, and propose specific recommendations.

Senior Field Officer Seri Worden who serves as a Task Force member, had this to say about the report:

"For Philadelphians, this initial report is a useful analysis of current preservation laws, resources, and tools available to the city today, serving to illuminate where strengths and opportunities exist. One of the most historic cities in our nation, Philadelphia enjoys a strong preservation law at its foundation and has a rich tapestry of historic neighborhoods. We look forward to continuing to work with Mayor Kenney’s taskforce and grassroots community members to ensure that preservation is helping to sustain and invigorate historic neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia while maintaining the city’s unique character.”

Regulation Findings

  • Philadelphia has a fundamentally strong preservation ordinance
  • The Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC) has appropriately broad authority
  • “Hardship” provisions offer property owners of historic places some flexibility

Survey Findings

  • The permit application review workload for PHC staff has more than doubled since 2000
  • Recent staff additions will enable PHC to more proactively designate historic resources
  • Philadelphia has the second highest number of properties built before 1945 (of 49 other cities)
  • Compared to other cities, Philadelphia has fewer properties on the National Register of Historic Places and the Philadelphia Register (the ordinance regulates local register only)
  • A citywide survey of historic resources has never been completed, although some local surveys have been done

Incentives Findings

  • Between 1999 and 2007 federal historic tax credit projects led to $244 million in investment, more than 1,000 jobs, and $2.44 million in local tax revenues
  • Local voluntary easement programs help maintain and preserve historic properties
  • PHC staff provide free technical assistance on how to repair or modify historic properties
  • City programs help homeowners remain in and maintain their homes and assist business owners who invest in historic commercial corridors
  • There are no financial, zoning, or process incentives at the local level specifically designed to support historic preservation

Outreach and Education Findings

  • The Citizens Planning Institute and nonprofit organizations educate residents about historic preservation
  • PHC has limited capacity to engage and educate the public
  • The constituency for historic preservation must be expanded

Announcing the 2020 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

See the List