In 2014, Mt. Vernon Manor CDC partnered with the Mantua Civic Association to launch a neighborhood re-zoning initiative for Mantua.
Zoning is the process of organizing the development of certain areas of land based on the permitted uses of that land. In other words, it is a local government’s power to determine what kind of construction projects and other activities can happen on a plot of land. Practically speaking, zoning in Philadelphia and elsewhere has a long and troubled history, owing to its use to create and maintain racial segregation.
The map above is the 1937 Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) coding of Philadelphia. The now-infamous ‘redlining’ maps were used to determine where the federal government would guarantee mortgages and, along with local zoning, were used to exclude people of color, immigrants, and the poor from desirable neighborhoods and to reinforce racial segregation and the concentration of poverty.
Mantua was not exempt from this history and since the 1950s it had been zoned almost exclusively for multi-family residence and industrial activity, even though most of its buildings are homes occupied by single families. For many years, the difference between the zoning of Mantua and the actual use of the housing was only a technicality. But as business and university growth in University City started to lead to the conversion of single-family homes into multi-family homes and the construction of large apartment buildings, residents fearing the rapid erasure of the historic character of their neighborhood organized to align the zoning code with the ways residents actually lived in Mantua.
So, over the course of the next three years, residents organized meetings with Third District Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell to demonstrate the neighborhood’s overwhelming support for re-zoning and to advocate for her to introduce the legislation that the City Council would have to pass in order to ratify a zoning change. On April 13, 2017, legislation was introduced into City Council while dozens of residents rallied to attend the Rules Committee’s Public Hearing of the bill. Then, on June 22, 2017, City Council voted unanimously to re-zone Mantua!
Below, two maps show the before-and-after of land use zoning in Mantua. Single-family zoning appears in yellow, multi-family in orange, commercial in red, and industrial zoning in purple.