Before Philly Shootout, Nicetown Wasn't All That Nice

Several quality of life indicators show one of the most distressed neighborhoods in Philadelphia

Publisher’s Riff

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(photo credit: Wanda Thomas |

Perhaps one of the greatest modern urban oxymorons is the neighborhood “Nicetown” which is tucked tightly into North Philadelphia. It is also known, almost legend-like, as one of Philly’s most socioeconomically distressed and notorious neighborhoods. When Philadelphia police engaged in a fierce gun battle and nearly 8-hour standoff on Wednesday afternoon, most Philadelphians were stunned by the scope of it … but not all that surprised that it happened in Nicetown.

This particular level of gun violence is not an isolated one-off for the Nicetown section. But, it shouldn’t be ignored that this is reflective of deeper systemic and structural issues that have long plagued that section of Philadelphia - even as there are pockets of Nicetown undergoing a period of noticeable gentrification and rehabilitation. It’s crucial to take those issues or challenges into account when digesting what just went down in Nicetown.

A quick look at several key indicators suggest this was never the first fit of gun violence in this very residential section of Philly and, unfortunately, it won’t be the last as the city struggles through what seems like another record year of gun clashes and homicides (204 homicides in Philadelphia to date as of this writing, according to Philadelphia police data, 4 percent higher than this same time in 2018).

Quality of Life

Incidentally, the Philadelphia Health Department just released its first ever The Health of Philadelphia Neighborhoods report at the beginning of August. General quality of life indicators for Nicetown are among the most troubling, especially when compared to Philly’s 45 other neighborhoods.


Nicetown-Tioga, according to that report, actually outranks all other city neighborhoods when assessing the citywide average of violent crime per 100,000 people …

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s analysis of homicides throughout Philadelphia since 2003 shows Nicetown-Tioga consistently ranking among the city’s Top 10 Deadliest Neighborhoods …

It wasn’t on that list between 2003 - 2007, but from 2008 through 2017, there was a noticeable uptick to place it on that list. There have been 306 total homicides since 1988 in that section, one of the highest 30-year homicide totals in the city …

Life Expectancy

The very top of that report offers glaring life expectancy outcomes in a comparison between the Nicetown-Tioga section of Philly and the much more prosperous Center City section …

Health Outcomes & Factors

Overall, Nicetown-Tioga ranks at the bottom of the 4th Quartile of neighborhood health rankings …

.. and it’s still in the bottom quartile for Health Factors, as well …

Cancer mortality rates are also among the highest in this section of the city …

Image result for cancer mortality in philadelphia

Food Insecurity

Food insecurity rates throughout Philadelphia are already high and above the national average. Those rates in the Nicetown-Tioga section of the city are already above the 30 percent threshold.

It’s not to say that all of Nicetown-Tioga is in that much distress. We don’t want to discount or dismiss the residents who live there. Again, there are relatively nice pockets within Nicetown and a recent trend towards rehabilitation But, overall, we must be realistic and holistic: Nicetown is in enough of a troubling state to warrant greater examination and immediate action from policymakers, community advocates and other stakeholders.