We just got off the phone with City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who's embroiled in some development battles in Point Breeze, which is one of the communities he represents. The fight has gotten rather charged, with serious and not-so-serious allegations lobbed primarily from Point Breeze developer Ori "Lotgate" Feibush, and a petition that attacks Johnson directly. So far, Johnson has stayed mum, but spoke to us about what makes for good relationships between longtime neighborhood residents and incoming developers.
Developers who are new to a neighborhood should approach longtime residents with respect, understand what their concerns are, and be explicit about future plans. Longtime residents don't want to live in poor conditions, Johnson said—"who wants a lot where people are doing drugs?"—but they're afraid. Even more than being priced out of the neighborhood, they have a fear of the unknown. That's why communicating intentions from the start is vital. "If there's an open dialogue in the beginning, there's always a way to come to a level of common ground."
Johnson points to Bart Blatstein as a developer who gets it right. "He's great at going into North Philadelphia," Johnson said, "setting up scholarship programs. He has no problem setting up developments. It's about approach more than anything else, the
human relationships between people."
Speaking of which, how about this whole petition thing?
"I'm always about unifying people. That's always been my approach. You won't find me online being derogatory in any kind of manner."
His focus, he says again and again, is collaboration. "We all need to work together. We are all one people. At the end of the day, we all have to live in the same community."