PHILADELPHIA-The “rapidly decentralizing” of urban Philadelphia is one of a string of alarms raised about development throughout this region in a report delivered here recently by Bruce Katz, director of Washington, DC-based Brooking Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy. The outer, second-class townships are growing while the cities, boroughs and older townships are losing ground, according to the report. “In short,” he says, “Metropolitan Philadelphia exhibits one of the nation’s most radical patterns of sprawl and abandonment.”

Philadelphia’ patterns of sprawl and disinvestments in older communities are having a negative impact on development. In the report, Richard Florida, a an economic development expert with Carnegie Mellon University and Brooking, adds, “Unfortunately, the energy of Center City, Chestnut Hill, Manayunk and West Chester remains an exception to a general rule of hollowing-out older communities, neighborhood decline, and rampant suburban sprawl.”

The culprits include fragmentation of governments within the greater metro area, weak planning and the lack of a cohesive strategy for development. There are 242 general purpose governments in the region, according to the report. The sheer number “complicates coordination, exacerbates the area’s unbalanced and sprawling growth patterns and undercuts its competitiveness.

“Virtually all of the Philadelphia’s municipalities have a comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance,” the report states. “Still, the Commonwealth’s planning system does not require the region’s numerous municipalities to plan cooperatively or to zone in accordance with regional or county plans…In many places a lack of coordination leads to chaotic and redundant development.”

Subsidies from major economic programs are distributed “haphazardly,” the study charges. While such programs distribute approximately $57 per capita to projects located in the outer suburbs, just $39 per capita goes to projects in established older communities.

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