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Welcome to the Philadelphia Pennsylvania blog. This blog contains a wealth of information about Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Apartment living, and housing opportunities in our great city and other metro areas of the U.S.. Learn about efforts at restoring architectural relics of the past - former factories, warehouses, schools, hotels, hospitals, train stations - into first-class houses and apartments, and in preserving these distinguished residential communities for future generations. Please enjoy your stay on our Philadelphia apartments blog and feel free to share your stories on life in Philly and the city of brotherly love. In addition, we welcome all commentaries regarding building remodeling, home remodeling, kitchen remodeling, bathroom remodeling, and house hunting. Thank You!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Earthlink Bids Philly Adieu

Barring last-minute heroics, EarthLink will end its municipal Wi-Fi work in Philadelphia in June as part of its effort to get out of the muni Wi-Fi business.

The Philly deployment had less than 6,000 subscribers and the city government had bowed out long ago. EarthLink, which has said it has spent more than $20 million on the deployment, has filed a federal lawsuit asking that its future responsibility be limited to $1 million as specified in its original agreement with Philadelphia.

EarthLink has been turning over its muni Wi-Fi networks to city governments or otherwise extracting itself from various deployments since late last year. It recently pulled out of New Orleans and turned over networks to Corpus Chisti, Texas, and Milpitas, Calif. Other deployments, in San Francisco and Sacremento, never got beyond the planning stage.

That leaves Anaheim, Calif., as its last Wi-Fi deployment. It's still negotiating its exit there with city officials.

New CEO Rolla Huff has refocuces the company on its ISP business, receiving judos from Wall Street for putting it on the road to profitability.

This may put a damper on some who use free Wi-Fi networks frequently. Many apartments, lofts, and other living communities provide free wireless, and soon, may be losing the privaledge. If you are looking for free wireless in downtown Philadelphia, head to the Packard Motorcar Building. Historic landmarks is proud to offer free Wi-Fi it the common area of the building.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Suburbs a Mile Too Far for Some

Historic Landmarks See an Increased Demand for Urban Lofts

Abandoning grueling freeway commutes and the ennui of San Fernando Valley suburbs, Mike Boseman recently found residential refuge in this Southern California city. His apartment building straddles a light-rail line, which the 25-year-old insurance broker rides to and from work in Los Angeles.

Richard Wells is more than a generation older but was similarly attracted to the Pasadena apartment building. The British-born scientist retains what he calls a European preference for public transportation despite his nearly 30 years in California. Plus, he said, the building's location means, "I can walk to a hundred restaurants, the Pasadena symphony and movie theaters."

Messrs. Boseman and Wells embody trends that are dovetailing to potentially reshape a half-century-long pattern of how and where Americans live: The driveable suburb -- that bedrock of post-World War II society -- is for many a mile too far.

In recent years, a generation of young people, called the millennials, born between the late 1970s and mid-1990s, has combined with baby boomers to rekindle demand for urban living. Today, the subprime-mortgage crisis and $4-a-gallon gasoline are delivering further gut punches by blighting remote subdivisions nationwide and rendering long commutes untenable for middle-class Americans.

Just as low interest rates and aggressive mortgage financing accelerated expansion of the suburban fringe to the point of oversupply, "the spike in gasoline prices, layered with demographic changes, may accelerate the trend toward closer-in living," said Arthur C. Nelson, director of Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute in Alexandria, Va. "All these things are piling up, and there are fundamental changes occurring in demand for housing in most parts of the country."

Christopher Leinberger, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and a developer of walkable areas that combine housing and commercial space, describes the structural shift as the "beginning of the end of sprawl."

Recipe for Reurbanization

Todd Zimmerman, a housing consultant and an early advocate of pedestrian-friendly community planning known as New Urbanism, said demographic and cultural factors explain a big part of the trend. Baby boomers and millennials are the country's two biggest generations, with some 82 million and 78 million people born during their respective eras. Both flocks are leaving their nests and finding that higher-density urban housing fits their lifestyles.

"Millennials and baby boomers are in perfect sync. They are at a stage where they both want the same thing," said Mr. Zimmerman, a co-managing director at Zimmerman/Volk Associates Inc. in Clinton, N.J. He said the populations of Americans in their 20s and in their 50s are rising and will add eight million potential housing consumers by the time their numbers peak in 2015. "You've got a recipe for reurbanization on a dramatic scale," he said.

While baby boomers may be looking to downsize their homes and simplify their lives in urban condominiums, millennials often look to cities as a way of rebelling against the suburban cul-de-sac culture that pervaded their youth, Mr. Zimmerman said. That is no different than past generations of twentysomethings, but the numbers of millennials are larger.

Even families who sought the suburbs or were priced out of cities now have an economic imperative to find their way back closer to town. Transportation is the second-biggest household expense, after housing, and suburban families face a relatively greater gas burden. At the same time, distant suburbs, or exurbs, where housing growth was predicated on cheap gas, have experienced the biggest declines in home values in the past year, according to a May report by CEOs for Cities, a nonprofit group of public- and private-sector officials that seeks to promote urban areas. "The gas-price spike popped the housing bubble," said Joe Cortright, the report's author.

The demand for housing near urban centers isn't going to snuff out suburbs overnight. Several satellite towns around cities continue to lure jobs and are reinventing themselves with their own city centers. About half of the walkable urban areas that Brookings's Mr. Leinberger identified in a recent survey are located in suburbs, though generally close to major cities.

A Challenge for Cities

While high gas prices are a boon to New Urbanism and other "smart-growth" planning concepts, in practice such mixed-use projects often are harder to execute -- from acquiring local approval to securing Wall Street financing -- than the traditional suburban tract-housing model. The challenges for cities are considerable, from investing in public-transportation systems to creating incentives for developers to accommodate the new urban housing demand.

Cities such as Denver, Charlotte, N.C., and Portland, Ore., are making investments in public transportation and spurring the construction of symbols of the new housing era: multifamily residential and retail complexes at or next to transit stations. Reconnecting America, a nonprofit group committed to transit-oriented development, estimates that the number of households near transit stations will soar to 15 million by 2030, from six million now.

Even in the auto mecca of Southern California, attitudes are changing, and transit-oriented development is gaining traction along subway, light-rail and commuter-train lines serving Los Angeles. In Pasadena, an apartment and retail complex built around the Del Mar light-rail station is doing brisk business. Some 95% of the 347 units are rented, the highest occupancy rate since the building opened two years ago, said Dave Brackett, executive vice president of Archstone, which owns the building.

Fuel-Efficient Fun

Mr. Boseman, the insurance salesman, found his way to Archstone Del Mar Station from Encino, to the west in the San Fernando Valley. The 75-minute commute from Encino to downtown Los Angeles tried his patience and lightened his wallet. "I'd go through a tank of gas every four days," he said.

After a year, he and his girlfriend decided to move to downtown Los Angeles. They rented a renovated loft, and dumped one of their two cars to avoid the expense and parking hassle. But the area wasn't lively enough at night, so they looked along public-transportation lines for their next apartment.

Pasadena, home to the Rose Bowl, is a leafy city with stately houses and a thriving shopping area in a reinvigorated old downtown. Archstone Del Mar Station is near the commercial center, and a 26-minute ride on one of Los Angeles's metro lines. With a train change, Mr. Boseman is at work within 35 minutes from his doorstep. He also takes the light rail into Los Angeles on weekends for entertainment events. With his car use limited to Saturday and Sunday at most, he said, "I'm filling it up once a month."

Mr. Wells, too, got rid of one of his cars after moving into Archstone Del Mar Station 10 months ago, and "my aim is never to use the car I kept," he said. The 71-year-old scientist reckons he has saved 500 gallons. Last week, he moved out of the apartment building -- but not far. For the same rationale, he bought a condo at the next light-rail station along the metro line.

In Los Angeles's central Koreatown neighborhood, developer Urban Partners LLC last year opened a 449-unit apartment building with 36,000 square feet of retail space atop a subway station. Twenty percent of the units are rented at below-market rates in an effort to provide affordable housing without an "hour or two commute," said Dan Rosenfeld, an Urban Partners principal.

With more than 30 U.S. cities that have or are developing commuter-rail systems, demand for mixed-used, mixed-income projects is bound to increase, said Mr. Rosenfeld. But even with an emphasis on public transport and walkable urban neighborhoods, one staple of American culture is so entrenched that it is bound to take years to reverse.

"We never reduce the amount of parking at our developments. People still want their cars," he said. "Nothing would make us happier than to reduce the expensive underground parking."

by Jonathan Karp
Thursday, June 19, 2008provided byWSJ

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

City of Brotherly Love is Named Best for Grads

Historic Landmarks Plays Key Role Providing Urban Lofts For Grad Students in Historic Neighborhoods

Joey Hyde, a 25-year old physics grad student at the University of Pennsylvania, likes living in downtown Philadelphia because he can get around without a car, make spontaneous plans with friends or his fiancée for a night on the town, and enjoy a great meal at his favorite upscale Cuban restaurant for half of what it would cost in Manhattan.

“Philadelphia is pretty livable for people my age,” says Hyde, a Florida native who moved to the city at 22 after completing his undergrad degree in Pittsburgh. “It’s a lifestyle like New York’s, but much more affordable. People here can bunk up together like in Brooklyn if they want, but real estate is a lot less expensive than in New York.”

Hyde’s assessment sums up new findings from Apartments.com and Careerbuilder’s CBCampus.com job site, which today released their list of the top 10 most affordable cities for young college grads. The survey ranks Philadelphia at the top of the list, based on research criteria including the population of people age 20 to 24, the number of entry-level job openings suitable for new grads, and the average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

According to the data, the average price of a one-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia is $962, 58 percent less than the $1,562 monthly rent on a one-bedroom in New York. And, if the survey is correct, there are plenty of jobs available for young workers both in and beyond college.

Finding a place, and finding a job

Of course, many factors play in to a young adult’s choice of where to live—and cities around the country have struggled for years to offer both lifestyle amenities and compelling job opportunities, and in a setting that’s affordable to younger workers.

According to Carol Coletta, president and CEO of Chicago-based research organization CEOs for Cities, roughly two-thirds of young adults consider where they want to live first, then consider how they’ll earn a living.

“Jobs aren’t always the first thing young people are looking for in a city,” she says. “They want a city that’s clean and attractive, offers the lifestyle they want, is safe, ‘green’ and with outdoor amenities, and that has the kind of housing they like. Lastly, they want a city that will enhance their professional reputation.”

However, given the current fragile economy, new graduates may need to consider their employability more carefully as they scope out potential cities. Grads this year face stiff competition now.

“Employers are proceeding with caution as they wait to see how the nation’s economic situation unfolds,” said Brent Rasmussen, chief operating officer at CareerBuilder.com.

According to CareerBuilder research among 3,147 hiring managers at major employers, 58 percent plan to hire recent college graduates this year, down from 79 percent during 2007. The pay isn’t great: Most employers (42 percent) plan to pay salaries below $30,000; 32 percent will pay $30,000 to $40,000 range; 15 percent will pay $40,000 to $50,000; and 11 percent will pay more than $50,000.

Personal versus practical concerns

While housing availability is important to new grads, so too is the opportunity to participate in key industries. The list of top cities includes some usual suspects — Boston, a hub for research and academia; New York, the financial and media capital; Dallas and Houston, where energy and big business thrive.

Frontrunner Philadelphia, along with other cities on the list, has been working to enhance its reputation among younger workers and prevent the “brain drain” that happens when young adults graduate and leave. Phil Hopkins, vice president of research at Select Greater Philadelphia, a regional marketing organization, says his organization and the non-profit group Campus Philly are both working to retain and educate young adults and college grads about local career options before they hit the job market.

“New York is the undisputed financial capitol of the U.S. Washington D.C. is the political capitol,” says Hopkins. “Our strength is in pharmaceuticals and life sciences. There are 85 pharmaceutical companies within an hour and a half of the center city.”

His job, he says, is to make sure students are aware of this.

Nice homes – for now, anyway

Cities focus on attracting young workers both because younger workers are more entrepreneurial and because, once they hit 30, they often land in life circumstances — marriage, home ownership, parenthood, caring for aging parents — which can slow their mobility, says Coletta.

Hyde, who’ll earn a doctorate and get married by the time he graduates from an Ivy League college, isn’t necessarily loyal to Philadelphia. Asked if he wants to work there once he’s completed his education said “Not particularly.”

“The nice parts of Philly are really nice. But the bad parts are awful,” he says. “It’s the flip side of cheap real estate.”

But for a certain type of Gen Y renter, Philadelphia, particularly University City apartments, will offer just the right mix of job and lifestyle options.

Hopkins, the Select Greater Philadelphia executive, says that his son, a 24-year old working at insurer AIG and living with his parents to save money, is now debating whether to move to the New York area or stay closer to home. Because he wants to buy a home, he has no options in Manhattan—and few options in nearby New Jersey cities.

“He can’t afford the monthly payments in Hoboken, Jersey City, or Manhattan,” Hopkins says. “So now he’s thinking about Philadelphia.”

By: Jane Hodges
MSNBC contributor; April. 29, 2008