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As Philly's Urban Core Reckons With Remote Work, Its Residential Neighborhoods Thrive

Post Brothers multifamily project Piazza Alta in Northern Liberties, seen well into construction in late July, with the original Piazza behind it and the Philadelphia skyline in the background

Beyond the early success of cell and gene therapy, a major reason for Philadelphia commercial real estate's focus on life sciences is the continued poor performance of offices.

But as the worrying state of the global economy looms as a potential threat to Philly's new darling industry, its residential and multifamily markets have remained strong and even outperformed high-powered neighbors New York and Washington, D.C., Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Inga Saffron reports.

Though driven in large part by changes to the 10-year tax abatement, Philadelphia permitted more residential units than New York last year for the first time in memory.

Though Center City offices are only about 38% full, its residential population — already more robust than most urban downtowns — has remained steady through the pandemic and accounted for a larger share of business for the area's retail establishments. In the more popular surrounding neighborhoods like East Passyunk and Fishtown, remote workers have allowed already popular restaurant scenes to meaningfully increase their daytime offerings, Saffron reports.

Though Philly, like its neighbors, lost thousands in population to the pandemic flight to less dense areas, early indicators show it has already gained over 3,000 residents back this year, Saffron reports. For-sale housing has been so scarce in the suburbs that anecdotally, more urban homeowners have chosen to remain in Philadelphia, where single-family homes are far more common in areas with direct access to city transit and dense community offerings than in comparable cities.

In neighborhoods like Northern Liberties, previously unheard-of levels of density are on the horizon, such as at Post Brothers' Piazza Alta project, where the thousands of units under construction and in the planning phase are increasingly targeting families.

But among the biggest barriers to Philly fulfilling its promise is the city's government, which has made several moves to exert more control over development in the city, often in opposition to density.

CORRECTION, JULY 28, 4:30 P.M. ET: A previous version of this article misstated the name of Post Brothers' Northern Liberties development. This article has been updated.