Classifying the Region's Communities

Descriptions of Community Types We Have Used

To make it easier to analyze hundreds of communities, we created a typology of 5 kinds of communities found in the Greater Philadelphia region. To separate the different communities within the City of Philadelphia, we used the 12 Planning Analysis Sections devised by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. In the suburbs, we used a statistical procedure (cluster analysis) to classify over 350 separate boroughs, cities and townships into relatively homogeneous groups, using variables from the 2000 Census. Thirteen variables were used: five housing characteristics, six socioeconomic characteristics, and two household characteristics. The housing variables were: percent of units built before 1940, percent of units built after 1955, percent vacant, percent detached single units, and percent owner-occupied. The socio-economic variables were percent African American, percent with less than high school education, percent with a bachelor’s degree or better, percent of families earning less than 150% of the poverty line, percent working outside the community of residence, and percent unemployed. The household variables were percent of families with children under 18, and percent of families which were female-headed. Our statistical analysis produced 5 types of communities in the Greater Philadelphia region.

Urban Centers

This category includes many of the region’s former centers of manufacturing strength, now on the decline. These towns contain populations with lower incomes and lower education levels than the rest of the region, with as many as one-fourth of residents not having completed high school. Although these communities have significantly more female-headed families than the rest of the region, a very high proportion of householders no longer have children under 18 so these communities are not as “child-centered” as many suburbs. Large shares of the housing stock were built before 1940, while few housing units were built within the last decade.

Beverly City, Burlington County             
Lawnside, Camden County                
Coatesville, Chester County                 
Marcus Hook, Delaware County                
Paulsboro, Gloucester County
Norristown, Montgomery County  
Penns Grove, Salem County                 

Established Towns

Although significant proportions of these municipalities consist of pre-1940 housing stock, their age is not associated with economic decline. In fact, many of these older towns, centered on commercial main streets, are desirable locations because their townscape connotes solid, established communities and they are well served by transportation. Their populations are among the best educated in the region, and they contain only small numbers of female-headed families. Although their residents are more affluent than the people residing in the Urban Centers, the levels of home ownership are about the same. More of these communities are located on the Pennsylvania side than on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.

New Hope, Bucks County            
Audubon Park, Camden County                
West Chester, Chester County 
Swarthmore, Delaware County                
Cheltenham, Montgomery County
Narberth, Montgomery County

Stable Working Communities

This category includes many of the region’s oldest towns located along the banks of the Delaware River, but there are also some working class boroughs at greater distance from Philadelphia. A high percentage of housing units in these towns were built before 1940, with relatively little new construction in the past decade. Compared to both the Urban Centers and Established Towns, these Stable Working Communities have greater proportions of their housing stock in single-family detached units (as opposed to multi-family), and higher levels of home ownership. On average, less than one-fifth of their residents have college degrees, a lower percentage than any other type of community except the Urban Centers. Female-headed families, while they comprise only half as large a percentage of the population as in Urban Centers, exceed the proportion of such households in the other three types of communities.

Bristol, Bucks County                        
Mount Holly, Burlington County              
Collingswood, Camden County                
Kennett Square, Chester County                  
Tinicum Township, Delaware County                
Glassboro, Gloucester County  
Hatboro, Montgomery County 
Carneys Point, Salem County               

Middle Class Suburbs

While one can find some examples of these communities within the inner suburban ring, the majority are located near the outer edge of the region. Of all the community types, this category has the highest share of its housing stock in single-family detached housing. Compared to the populations in the Affluent Suburbs, twice as many residents in these communities have only a high school degree or less. Only about half as many have earned a college degree. Compared to the Affluent Suburbs, a somewhat smaller percentage of families have children at home.

Springfield Township, Bucks County                        
Southampton, Burlington County             
Berlin, Camden County                
Sadsbury, Chester County
Upper Chichester, Delaware County               
Deptford, Gloucester County                
Hatfield Township, Montgomery County  
Mannington, Salem County                

Affluent Suburbs

These suburbs are located in the middle ring of the region, enjoying easier access to central Philadelphia than the communities farther out. These affluent communities are well served by transportation, and they are growing rapidly. Of all the community types, they show the largest percent of housing units built within the last decade. They are developing at higher densities than the outer suburbs, which explains why they show a larger share of housing built as townhouses, condominiums, and options other than single-family detached homes. The residents are well educated, boasting a higher percentage of college graduates than in the other community types. Fewer families are female-headed than in all other types of communities.

Buckingham, Bucks County            
Evesham, Burlington County 
Voorhees, Camden County                
West Whiteland, Chester County                 
Newtown Township, Delaware County               
Washington Township, Gloucester County 
Lower Gwynedd, Montgomery County