It may sound slightly silly, but bay windows are the subject of attack in Philadelphia by some politicians. Yes, we are talking about those glass-sided windows that protrude outward from buildings. Recently, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson introduced an ordinance to ban what he calls “pop-out” windows, a feature that originated in stone cathedrals during the gothic era and are now widely popular on new townhouses and condos in and around the city of Philadelphia. The ban will target neighborhoods that are undergoing revitalization, such as Point Breeze and Grays Ferry.
It’s no secret why builders favor bay windows. Mainly, the glass structures expand views, add light, increase interior footage, and boost curb appeal. So, why the ban? There are several reasons. Per Councilman Johnson, “…we have these monstrosity developments with windows with aluminum siding that are green or orange or blue, and they don’t fit on these blocks that are all red-brick rowhouses.” The councilman, representing constituents in his South Philadelphia district, feels that bay windows do not fit in with the surrounding community and essentially undermine historic parts of his district. Though the councilman makes a valid argument, there is significantly more to the story than aesthetics.
The process of renovating deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of the influx of more affluent residents, or gentrification, is a complex issue. In Philadelphia, bay windows have become representative of this process. Per Patrick Grossi of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, bay windows have become symbols of “unwelcome change” in neighborhoods undergoing redevelopment. Some who oppose gentrification may seek to increase regulations on builders to deter new construction and further reduce appeal to buyers. Balconies, an upgraded feature in new builds, are also included in the ban.
Generally, those who oppose gentrification do not want to see residents pushed out of their neighborhoods and displaced or face property tax increases. Nor do they want the cultural vibe of a neighborhood to be affected. However, those who favor urban redevelopment share that there are significant benefits for all; including the expansion of economic opportunities, creation of better schools, reduction of crime rates, and increases in land values, and more. Still, change is difficult and not without controversy, mainly opposing demographic shifts.
Johnson’s bay window ban passed unanimously out of committee and now faces a full city council vote where it is soon expected to pass. However, per Philadelphia’s Streets Department, the ordinance would put a strain on the city’s limited resources and would be difficult to enforce. The city’s Streets Department calls the bill a “slippery slope,” suggesting it sets a dangerous precedent. Opponents of the ban call the restriction pointless and unnecessary. Not only does it add an unnecessary burden on a government department, it infringes upon the rights of property owners.