Theses Master's

Demolition and the Shrinking City: Philadelphia and Camden

Heo, Jean

This research will compare the demolition policies and practices of two shrinking cities within one metropolitan statistical area—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Camden, New Jersey. Both cities have experienced major population losses due to deindustrialization and outmigration, and despite their physical proximity, the current states of the two cities are vastly different, with Philadelphia having somewhat stabilized and showing recent upticks in population, while Camden continues to struggle. Both cities have an abundance of abandoned buildings, where demolition is not uncommon. This research, therefore, aims to understand how each cities’ demolition and vacancy policies have affected the current landscape, spatially, socially, economically, and how prominent, if at all, a “smart decline”-oriented framework has been in the implementation of such planning tools.
In so doing, the two research questions to be answered are: one, where does demolition occur—within what social, economic, and spatial contexts, using primarily GIS analysis; and two, to what extent do demolitions happen there, using regression analysis? The data analyses will be restricted to one 5-year time period, from 2008-2012, to correspond to the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey. The aim of answering the questions is central to understanding how actual demolition work and policy discourse stack up against each other, even within this short timeframe. The hope is that officials, researchers, and other scholars will see the importance of knowing both the short- and long-term impacts of demolition in shrinking cities, and how policies have shaped demolition practices, or how policies should be reworked to better reflect a city’s goals.
Camden suffers from mismanagement on the municipal, county, and state levels, which is reflected in both the GIS and regression analyses. Despite the optimistic rhetoric of recent policies, it appears that any demolition strategy fall to the wayside when funds are extremely limited and irregular, and when the city must respond to a great number of imminently dangerous buildings. Philadelphia, on the other, having fully addressed shrinkage, appears to have taken a two-pronged demolition strategy, which aims to address both public safety (imminently dangerous buildings) and site preparation and assemblage for future development.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Sutton, Stacey Ann
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 3, 2014