Philadelphia took a significant step forward in the 2011 redistricting cycle when several of the most gerrymandered districts in the country were finally addressed. This was due, in no small part, to substantial advocacy both in the communities negatively affected and by champions within City Hall of a more fair map that strove for equitable representation.
We have yet to install permanent reforms in the Home Rule Charter that would guarantee boundaries drawn to prioritize community objectives and that would limit the risk of political manipulation. Given that the current cycle is underway, this matter should be addressed later. But with new U.S. Census Bureau data indicating Philadelphia has continued to grow from new residents—not only from across the country but from around the world—it remains imperative that residents have a meaningful opportunity to shape the districts in which they will be represented.
The following roadmap details the steps we ask that Philadelphia City Council follow to elevate community voices and ensure an open, accessible and inclusive redistricting process. These steps were developed based on our extensive experience in supporting and working within our diverse communities, and the specific challenges and opportunities of involving the public in the redistricting process.
1) Prepare to collect and use public input
Philadelphia City Council should create an online portal similar to the Budget Center on phlcouncil.com that includes the following:
2) Count incarcerated Philadelphians at their home address
The Legislative Reapportionment Commission voted on August 24 to reallocate Census data for most prisoners in state facilities so that those individuals, for the purposes of state legislative redistricting, would be counted at their last home address instead of at the state correctional facility where they are being housed. City Council should use this same prisoner-adjusted data to ensure that as many Philadelphians as possible are counted—and represented—in their home communities instead of a distant part of the state. City Council and the administration should also explore the feasibility of a similar reallocation for the approximately 4,000 Philadelphians who were being held in the city’s State Road facilities during the 2020 Census.
3) Collect and analyze initial public input
Through a combination of public hearings (virtual and/or in-person, depending on health risks) and resident submissions received through a new portal on phlcouncil.com, gather input from communities and stakeholders across the city. Holding an extensive series of district-specific or regional hearings, both before a preliminary map is released and after would set a high bar for redistricting-related hearing schedules anywhere in the country. Opportunities for Council members to hear directly from residents, ask questions, and comment during community discussions are critical. In addition to hearing from residents specifically about how lines should be adjusted or changed, public input should also inform the priorities or objectives of map-drawers, which should be explicitly stated and broadly understood (e.g., keeping neighborhoods together, protecting racial, ethnic or language groups, not splitting commercial corridors or school catchment areas).
To best prepare the public to participate, background information on the redistricting process, including the shapes of the current districts and options to submit feedback online, should be distributed widely ahead of time. Public hearing participants can be advised that the most instructive feedback for City Council will focus on specific features of the current map, how they would adjust certain boundaries and why.
4) Release a preliminary map for public feedback
The availability of a preliminary or draft mapping plan for the public to review is one of the most important steps of the process. With actual lines to examine, the specificity of feedback from residents and stakeholders will increase substantially as they can more readily identify potential issues with the proposed district boundaries in their area, while also affirming boundaries that make sense to them. If necessary, up to three such preliminary plans could be shared for public review, creating a degree of choice both for city residents and Council members. Replicating the constitutional timeline used by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (30 days for review before a preliminary map is advanced) would provide a sufficient opportunity for residents and communities to share feedback.
5) Publish a final map and narrative that tells its story
Both the preliminary map(s) and the final approved mapping plan should be accompanied by a narrative that “tells the story of the map.” This narrative or supporting explanation should provide a description of each of the 10 districts, the process conducted to create those districts, how City Council incorporated feedback from the public, and how the map(s) accomplish the stated priorities or objectives.
6) Commit to permanent reforms for 2031
The status quo process for redrawing council districts has remained unchanged since it was adopted with the Home Rule Charter in 1951. To guarantee future redistricting cycles are open, accessible and inclusive, City Council should create an advisory committee led by residents to develop potential reforms, including an independent commission, to be codified in the Charter ahead of the 2030 Census.
With close collaboration among City Council members, civic and community groups, and residents and stakeholders across the city, we are confident Philadelphia can set a new and higher standard for local government in working towards a mapping plan that prioritizes community voice, ensures equitable representation and garners public trust.
As of October 25, 2021:
100 Black Men of Philadelphia
35th District Town Watch
African-Caribbean-Afro-Latino Descent PAC
Amistad Law Project
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Asian Americans United
Awbury Arboretum Neighbors
Beech Community Services
Bella Vista Neighbors Association
Block Captains Committee of Nicetown
Called To Serve CDC
Callowhill Neighborhood Association
Cathedral Park CDC
Center for Leadership, Development and Advocacy
Center City Organized for Responsible Development
Center City Residents Association
Coalition of African Communities (AFRICOM)
Committee of Seventy
Community on the Rise
Congreso de Latinos Unidos
Fair Districts Philadelphia
Fishtown Neighbors Association
Franklin Bridge North Neighbors
Friends of Penrose
Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition
Hunting Park United
Japanese American Citizens League-Philadelphia Chapter
Kingsessing Area Civic Association
Korean American Association of Greater Philadelphia
Institute of Development and African American Youth
League of Women Voters of Philadelphia
Liberty City LGBT+ Democratic Club
Logan Square Neighborhood Association
Lower Moyamensing Civic Association
Millennials in Action
National Puerto Rican Agenda
New Kensington CDC
Nicetown-Tioga Improvement Team
Normandy Civic Association
North of Washington Avenue Coalition
Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association
Northern Liberties Neighbors Association
Overbrook West Neighbors
PA Youth Vote
Passyunk Square Civic Association
Penn Leads the Vote
Philadelphia Arab-American Development Corp
Philadelphia Association of CDCs
Philadelphia Bar Association
Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp
Philadelphia Crosstown Coalition
Philly Neighborhood Networks
Public Interest Law Center
Resident Action Committee II
Riverwards Area Democrats
South Kensington Community Partners
South of South Neighborhood Association
Strategic Partners For Change Firm
United Voices for Philadelphia
West Belmont Civic Association
West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative
West Torresdale/Morrell Park Civic Association
Wynnefield Residents Association