Tag Archives: old city civic association

Sometimes, the Bad Guys Win

Readers who know Philadelphia know that the area known as Old City is one of the most appealing parts of town.  Old houses, narrow streets – some with cobblestones – real history, decent shopping and restaurants – it’s just a nice place to spend a few hours walking around on a sunny weekend afternoon or evening and maybe daydreaming about what it might be like to live there.  It’s also located close to some of the city’s major roads, bridges, and the Delaware River and is within walking distance of the city’s downtown area.

One of the challenges that such areas inevitably face is that their economic vitality, location close to major infrastructure, and overall popularity make them a frequent target for attempts by government to introduce “improvements” and by developers to find a way to make a buck.  It’s a delicate balancing act, trying to weigh the needs of the community versus the interests of the city, and seldom does it turn out that everyone’s happy with whatever ultimately happens.

Government and developers spend big bucks advocating their interests, but in a place like Old City, the job of advocating the community’s interests falls to the residents themselves, who banded together many years ago to create the Old City Civic Association.  If there’s a public improvement that the community disapproves of, or a proposed development it considers distasteful, it has traditionally fallen to the association to represent the community’s interests.  Elected officials, alas, cannot always be counted on to advocate their constituents’ interests because developers make big political contributions and row home owners, well, not so much.

And the association proved to be a formidable advocate of its interests over the years – maybe even too formidable for its own good.  Instead of being viewed as a nuisance, as so many community groups are, the association has come to be respected and even feared, especially by developers.  Feared so much, in fact, that developers started doing what it is that developers usually do when communities and cities don’t roll over and give them their way:  they sued.  And sued and sued and sued.  Currently the association is on the receiving end of three large lawsuits, and the legal fees have been piling up.  Insurers’ fees, too:  in fact, liability insurance to protect the association and its leaders has become so expensive that the little group can no longer afford it.

So in the end, the association’s leaders announced that they’ll do the only thing left to do:  disband.  Developers have deep pockets and they don’t, so essentially, they’ve been sued out of existence – even when they don’t lose the lawsuits.  Suing takes money, and defending yourselves from lawsuits takes money, too, and a little community group doesn’t stand a chance against deep-pocketed developers.

We all love stories where David slays Goliath, but at the same time, we understand that when such confrontations occur, it’s usually David who’s going to get his butt kicked.

And that’s exactly what happened to this particular David.