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[Eric Lee/DP File Photo] A vacant lot at 43rd and Market streets is similar to many that have been revitalized by the city initiative.

While Mayor John Street vowed four years ago to revitalize Philadelphia's neighborhoods, many feel that his plans to reshape the city should have been implemented differently.

Still, the mayor is celebrating the anniversary of his Neighborhood Transformation Initiative over the next three months, holding more than 100 neighborhood or park clean-up events and various housing development activities in the city.

According to Mark Hughes, a lecturer in the Fox Leadership program, the NTI has lacked a "central organizing idea."

"The idea should have been to try something bold and new ... that would have fundamentally changed the city's future, and that hasn't really happened with NTI."

The program's initial goals were to beautify and preserve the city through blight elimination as well as land redevelopment and housing investment.

The program has come with a large price tag, however, and has cost more than $600 million in combined bond funds, general operating dollars, other state and federal funds and donations.

Street said in a statement that the initiative's "impressive list of accomplishments" have made efforts worthwhile.

According to Cynthia Bayete, assistant director of the NTI, the results of the initiative are visible citywide.

"The number of trash-covered vacant lots has been reduced by one half, and about 16,000 lots are being cleaned and maintained on a regular basis," she said. "This is a change, and you can see it all over the city."

However, Hughes is not impressed with the city's blight removal or family relocation efforts.

Only a third of all dangerous, vacant houses in the city will be be demolished a year from now, he said, calling it an unimpressive figure considering Street's initial goals.

"At the core of NTI's [mission] should have been demolition ... and even on that basic goal, the city is falling far short of what itself projected it would be able to do," he said.

However, Bayete noted that 3,000 lots have been planted with trees and enclosed with wood rail fencing and that over 200,000 abandoned cars that once littered the city have been removed.

In addition to blight-removal and clean-up efforts, the initiative is overseeing the construction of 9,000 new housing units, which are either under construction, completed or in the planning process.

"This is a complete turnaround from five years ago, when there was little or no new housing being built in the city," Bayete added.

But some critics said that there has been little observable change in the city since the NTI was implemented.

"I think it's a noble effort and visionary, [but] I think it's mired in the details," said Harris Steinberg, the executive director of Penn Praxis. "There are parts that need constructive criticism."

"There are no guiding principals on how they want to rebuild these neighborhoods," he added, noting that the initiative has not particularly attracted many developers.

And Al Perry, president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors, said that Street has neglected to collaborate with city realtors.

Perry said he believes that such cooperation could improve the planning and implementation of the NTI's land-development initiatives.

While Perry has tried to contact Street's office on numerous occasions, he said "the mutual interest hasn't seemed to be reciprocated" and his calls have gone unanswered.

In addition to its lack of cooperative efforts, Perry thinks Philadelphia could learn from Baltimore's "aggressive" affordable housing program, in which real-estate agents work together with the city to market properties that once contained dilapidated houses.

He said that Philadelphia has missed out on the opportunity to follow Baltimore's lead and that he and his colleagues would "love to share [their] wealth of knowledge" with the mayor.

Yet for many cities around the world, Philadelphia is in fact serving as a model for city improvement.

Government officials from as far as Australia have visited Philadelphia specifically to learn more about the NTI.

New Orleans top housing officials and several of the mayor's senior officials have visited Philadelphia twice and are planning to bring their mayor here later this summer.

According to Bayete, New Orleans is interested in NTI because of its unique financing structure, which uses bond-issued funds for initiatives like blight removal.

"New Orleans [has] already started using some of our strategies and planning tools," Bayete added.

City officials from other U.S. cities including Baltimore, Detroit and Lexington, Ky., have also visited Philadelphia.

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