Seeing is believing. Look around the city. The demolition crisis is real, despite our knowing for years how under-protected Philadelphia’s built environment is, despite a mayor who promised strengthened historic preservation, despite a Philadelphia Historical Commission whose executive director has occupied that seat for over 13 years during a time of record demolition numbers, despite a pandemic that has slowed down nearly every facet of Philadelphia life — except development.
The data shared here depicts 156 significant demolitions in Philadelphia since 2015, the year the city joined the Organization of World Heritage Cities. (For an excellent, academic look at demolitions from 1985–2013, see Sam Kuntz’s 2014 thesis, “Why We Demolish: Assessing Heritage Loss in Philadelphia as a Catalyst for Policy Innovation in Historic Preservation.”)
By no means is this a comprehensive or complete list — this is simply what I’ve been able to garner from news stories, postings from community organizations, and tips from friends and followers. I recognize that there are demolitions missing, particularly in under-resourced neighborhoods who don’t get typically media coverage for development matters.
Most notably, by my count, there were 21 properties afforded protection by the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places that were still demolished. An additional 6 were nominated to the Register whether individually or as part of a district but still demolished. There are also 9 properties on the Register still standing but currently threatened with demolition.
The main contents of the data from 2015–present is below. My apologies if the formatting looks janky. I encourage you to view or download the spreadsheet in full HERE. Note that there is a second tab labeled “pre-2015” that is likewise an incomplete list of 46 additional significant demolitions that happened between 2010 and 2014.
Again, my apologies if the map below displays awkwardly in your browser or mobile device. I likewise encourage you to view this map in its own, larger window so that you can toggle between the different layers. DO THAT HERE.
The three layers on this map:
- HISTORIC STANDING: Denotes whether a building was on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places (PRHP), National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), or both (PRHP & NRHP); it was nominated but not designated; it was in a pending Historic District; or it was neither nominated nor designated, owing to the city’s lack of an inventory of historic resources.
- DEMOLITION DATE: Self explanatory, sorted since 2015. The “?” signifies buildings that remain standing (as of September 2021) but are under severe threat of demolition.
- REASON FOR DEMOLITION: The options here are also not comprehensive, and the real-life reasons are certainly nuanced, but they sufficiently cover the reasons for the purpose of this map.