January 10, 2006

Town-Gown Success: University of Pennsylvania

"Penn is at the forefront of a national trend of urban colleges that are aggressively trying to bridge 'town-gown' tensions by investing heavily in adjacent troubled neighborhoods -- and by making a connection with local civic life," the Washington Post reports. "Since Penn launched its efforts in 1996, officials from more than 100 schools have made pilgrimages to study how it transformed a decaying neighborhood with a thriving drug traffic into a vibrant college community."

I posted on the University of Pennsylvania's West Philadelphia initiatives, discussed at an American Planning Association conference, back in April. But Penn's initiatives deserve another look, because it's pretty amazing that a private institution surrounded by slums successfully invested a billion dollars to help turn around the nearby neighborhood instead of simply throwing up more barricades.

"Today," the Post notes, "Penn is the among the hottest schools in the country -- sitting smack in the middle of a clean and vital retail neighborhood where crime has been reduced by 49 percent in the past decade, and where students swarm the streets. ...

"As a case study, Penn's urban renewal effort is probably the most comprehensive -- targeting every service and institution that makes a community vibrant. The university restored shuttered houses and offered faculty incentives to move into the neighborhood; invested $7 million to build a public school; brought in a much-needed 35,000-square-foot grocery store and movie theater; and offered the community resources such as hundreds of used Penn computers."

It IS possible to turn around crumbling, crime-ridden neighborhoods. But it takes great vision, planning and resources.

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