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Building Communities of Opportunity

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By Jonathan F.P. Rose and Nilda Iris Ruiz

In the next 40 years, the population in the United States is projected to grow by more than 90 million people, with the majority of the expansion occurring in our nation's cities (1). The growth is concentrating in urban areas because in most parts of the country, job growth is significantly stronger in cities. This job growth is being driven by the knowledge and health care industries, which primarily employ younger, better educated workers who cluster near Universities, Museums and in old warehouse neighborhoods. In fact, 51 percent of all of the Philadelphia's jobs are located in Philadelphia's Metropolitan Center, comprised of the Center City and University City,(2) and two thirds of Philadelphia's job growth in the last year was in the education and health industries(3).

But the challenge for Philadelphia and the nation's cities is to broaden the geography of opportunity throughout the city. Health, education and economic outcomes can be too easily predicted by where one lives. Too often, low income communities are plagued with failing schools, poor access to health care, a lack of safe, green affordable housing and transportation options, and little fresh or healthy food.

The solution is to develop communities of opportunity, adjacent to mass transit that connect to both the Metropolitan Center and suburban job markets, are adjacent to education, affordable health care, shopping, open space and fresh food. Enterprise Community Partners, a national not-for-profit, has set a vision for the housing element of a "community of opportunity" and their guiding principal is: One day, every person will have an affordable home in a vibrant community, filled with promise and the opportunity for a good life(4).

APM, the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, Inc, a North Philadelphia community development corporation, has been working to redevelop the neighborhood to the east of Temple University into a community of opportunity for some time. Over the last 24 years, it has developed a 44,000 square foot retail center, with a Cousin's Supermarket, 136 new units of affordable housing, and over 20 acres of green, open space. Its latest project, Paseo Verde, developed by APM in partnership with Jonathan Rose Companies, raises the bar, with the nation's first Platinum LEED ND project, a green, mixed-use mixed-income community. Located adjacent to the Temple University Train Station, the fourth busiest stop in the regional transit system, Paseo Verde provides 53 affordable rental apartments and 67 market rate homes, along with 30,000 square feet of job generating commercial space, including a PHMC health care center, a pharmacy, APM's headquarters and its family and children's program offices. Residents of Paseo Verde will also benefit from its proximity to the thriving Temple University, which, along with Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania, are national models of urban educational institutions.

Paseo Verde's green features include an extremely energy efficient and water saving design, efficient mechanical systems, high-performing appliances and fixtures, low or no-volatile organic compound (VOC) paints and primers, and formaldehyde-free materials to enhance indoor air quality. Amenities and common spaces received the same attention, offering landscaped terraces and community gardens. And the project's green roofs also meet Philadelphia's stringent new "blue roof" water detention codes, retaining up to three inches of rain-water.

It's only fitting that as the award-winning Paseo Verde opens its doors to city residents, the same month Philadelphia will be opening its doors to GreenBuild, the world's largest conference and expo dedicated to green building. Paseo Verde is a model of Philadelphia's commitment to building green, and experts and enthusiasts from all over the world will have the opportunity to tour it firsthand during the event. Industry leaders, experts and professionals in the green arena will have the chance to study its success, and gain new knowledge to recreate it in urban centers around the country.

The community of opportunity framework is an excellent guide for how cities can revitalize neighborhoods. But to make it work requires funding. Paseo Verde would not have been possible without the financial commitments of the City of Philadelphia, The State of Pennsylvania, the Federal Government, LISC and JP Morgan Chase. APM's long-standing commitment to the neighborhood has brought together private and not-for-profit community redevelopers, city agencies, health care providers and academic institutions - all using economic, social and environmental well-being as their guide. Paseo Verde demonstrates that we can rebuild our city's neighborhoods into true "communities of opportunity."

Jonathan F. P. Rose is the founder of Jonathan Rose Companies, a national for profit development firm whose mission is to repair the fabric of communities. The firm has developed over $1.5 billion of affordable and mixed income housing, schools, performing arts centers and other essential elements of communities of opportunity. Mr. Rose, along with his partner Asociacíon Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), led by President/CEO Nilda Iris Ruiz, served as co-developers for Paseo Verde in Philadelphia, PA.


1. This website gives minute by minute projections of the populations of the United States and the World.

2. COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT 2020 - Creating Opportunity for All:
A Working Paper- Enterprise Community Partners 2012