The Color of Inequality

Housing and the Built Environment


As the country was buckling under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, the widely broadcast killing of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by a white Minneapolis police officer along with Amy Cooper's threatening use of police force to confront Christian Cooper in Central Park added to a litany of events that precipitated renewed protests against police brutality across the nation. While some protests remained peaceful, like those in Camden, New Jersey, peaceful protests in Philadelphia incited civil unrest and resulted in violent confrontations. It is not the first time that communities in Philadelphia have protested against racial injustice and police brutality, and the events of recent weeks are not isolated. Rather, they exist within the historical context of the intersection of race and economic opportunity – and for Black Americans and many other communities of color in the U.S, economic opportunity and mobility still remain out of reach.

To provide context and data to inform ongoing conversations about structural racism and illustrate how these enduring inequalities have shaped present-day neighborhood and civic relations in Philadelphia, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia is launching a special Leading Indicator series called The Color of Inequality. The series will highlight measures of racial and ethnic inequality in the City of Philadelphia to contribute to ongoing conversations about racism and prejudice. 

The Color of Inequality Part 1: Housing and the Built Environment

For those of us who live in Greater Philadelphia, the narrative of Philadelphia as “the poorest big city in America,” is not unfamiliar. What may be less familiar is how Philadelphia’s persistently high poverty rate derives directly from a legacy of racialized policy and planning decisions. For centuries, policy has been wielded as a weapon to marginalize African Americans in the U.S, which the Brookings Institution’s Andre Perry refers to as “policy violence.” While this notion encompasses a broad range of historic and modern policies, this installment of the Color of Inequality will focus on policies that impacted the built environment and housing to unpack how the very real consequences of these policies manifest as poverty in present-day Philadelphia.

The Color of Inequality Part 2: Race, Place, and Crime

From the days of Frank Rizzo’s controversial tenure as Philadelphia Police Commissioner from 1968-1971 to the notorious 1985 MOVE bombing by Philadelphia police to contemporary City Council debates on defunding the police department, the relationship between Black Philadelphians and the criminal justice system has long been complex and fraught. One pattern remains relatively consistent: arrests, incarceration, and the collateral consequences of the criminal justice system are both geographically and racially predictable. In this week’s installment of the Color of Inequality, we focus on how “race and place” matter in the context of criminal justice and explore some of the dynamics around criminal justice policy that manifest themselves in present-day Philadelphia.