Chestnut Hill vs. University City

With regards to the editorial on maintaining a family friendly culture in Chestnut Hill, you compared the John Story Jenks school (a neighborhood public elementary school) with the Saddie Alexander school in University City. In doing so you referred to Alexander Elementary as a charter school and a magnet school.

For the record, like Jenks, Alexander is a neighborhood public elementary school operated by the School District of Philadelphia. There is no private charter company operating the school. It is not open to anyone to attend living outside its catchment area, as are magnets.

You referenced the strong demand for slots on the school that led parents to form long lines and camp out waiting for the doors to open. That was true once, but no more. Under new Superintendent William Hite, parents enter into a lottery for admission, eliminating the first-come-first-see process that generated the lining up days in advance.

Finally, you referenced the increased value of real estate as a result of the school. This is a fact and one that demonstrates what quality neighborhood schools can do in contributing to a community, as opposed to charter/magnets. The Alexander school serves students in its catchment area set by the School District more an a decade ago.

The price of a home inside the Alexander catchment area is higher than a home outside, and home prices have been increasing dramatically since the school opened in 2003. But while the school is considered excellent, it’s not the only dynamic increasing house values. We are witnessing a classic case of supply and demand.

Inside University City the housing stock is approximately 80 percent rental so to accommodate the huge demand for apartments among students from three neighborhood universities. Approximately 20 percent of the housing stock in this community is single family residential homes. (It is the lowest home ownership rate in Philadelphia) That does not leave a lot of product in the market, and we know that when demand is high and supply is low, prices increase.

When one thinks of family friendly neighborhoods, Chestnut Hill ranks first and has for decades, whereas University City was not mentioned in the same category due to a rough couple of decades in which crime and blight, as well as a lack of amenities, defined the area. But a renaissance is underway, led by a combination of factors such as a significant reduction in crime, and repositioning once empty corridors into revitalized retail destinations that include a 24-hour grocery store, a six-screen cinema, and approximately 100 shops, restaurants, cafés and bars. (They have four bookshops in one neighborhood)

The role a quality public elementary school plays in inspiring families to move into a community is significant. Philadelphians have voted with their feet and left for the burbs for the last five generations. But many are staying and investing in public schools such as Jenks, a terrific institution already set within the city’s best neighborhood. If we want to compare Chestnut Hill and University City as family friendly, I like our chances. But I do envy that six screen cinema and those four book shops.

Tony Sorrentino

Chestnut Hill

Note: The author is chief of Staff, Office of the Executive Vice President at the University of Pennsylvania, and an urban planner who has focused on the university’s community and economic development strategy since 2000.


A Farewell to 19118

This week my wife and I are moving to the town of Athens, Ohio, so that she can begin her career as a professor of environmental planning at Ohio University. As her “trailing spouse,” I am along for the ride and, as such, this letter is the last thing I’ll write for the Chestnut Hill Local.

But before I go, I want to leave behind a note of thanks and congratulations to the members of the Chestnut Hill Community Association (past and present), for the hospitality they have shown me during the four years I reported for the Local, and for the remarkable work they have done and continue to do making 19118 such an amazing place to live, work, and visit.

From 2010 until May of this year, I covered the monthly meetings of the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee, the Development Review Committee, and the Community Association board. As an urban planner with an undergraduate background in journalism, my reporting for the Local has been a professional highlight for me, and in the course of my reporting, I have learned so much about planning, about journalism, and about how a community can function – even in the face of fiery disagreement – to guide its growth toward a common good.

Chestnut Hill is a unique community – a neighborhood within a major city that lacks any exclusive police power to control the land use and civic design that occurs within its borders. And yet, with a combination of expertise, dedication, and sheer love-of-place, the members of the board and its committees work tirelessly (and for free!) to make the Hill the wonderful place it is.

As a journalist, I’m required to remain objective – to report the news as I witness it and withhold any personal opinion from that reporting. As a certified planner, that has not always been so easy – I haven’t always agreed with the words and decisions of the board and committees I wrote about (though which decisions will remain my secret). But the talent and intelligence I was privileged to witness was inspiring, and I enjoyed my work very much. Thank you all so much for the opportunity – I wish you all the very best.

Wesley Ratko

Athens, Ohio


Civilians have paid a horrific price in the in Gaza

I hope my members of Congress will support and work for a lasting ceasefire that includes lifting the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The United States. has particular responsibility to help end the killing since U.S. weapons are fueling this conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross has called the blockade collective punishment against a civilian population.

U.S. policymakers must call for lifting the blockade to ensure a durable ceasefire. While it’s imperative to address the immediate crisis, I also hope the United States will support long-term stability by shifting from a militarized approach in the Middle East to one rooted in inclusive, diplomatic solutions.

The success of the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran and the agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons demonstrates that the world can be made a safer place through diplomacy, not more bombing.

Marlena Santoyo

Mt. Airy


Peer support group at Mt. Airy church

More and more people are becoming aware of the issue of mass incarceration. The U.S. incarceration rate has more than quadrupled in the past 40 years, giving the U.S. the dubious distinction of imprisoning more of its citizens than any other country. Many are imprisoned for non-violent offenses, and voices across the political spectrum are calling for reform on both moral and practical grounds. Low-income communities and communities of color have been hardest hit, but people all across the socio-economic spectrum have been affected.

What about the many who have family or friends in prison? The stigma of incarceration means that people often struggle alone with the challenges of having a loved one in prison. Tiffinee Gentry, a deacon at Summit Presbyterian Church in Mt. Airy, wanted to respond to this need. She began – with the backing of the church – a group where people could share their experiences and help one another during their difficult time in a confidential setting.

An enthusiastic group has met since April, and welcomes new members. It is on summer hiatus, but will begin again on Sept. 12at 7 p.m. in the parlor at Summit Presbyterian Church, 6757 Greene St. (corner of Westview), and every other Friday thereafter. This is a peer-support group; efforts to match people with professional resources are made when requested. For more information, please email

Rev. Cheryl Pyrch, pastor

Summit Presbyterian Church, Mt. Airy