Speaking Out

Neighborhood and Urban Agenda

Once again a rash of robberies and the terrible shooting of a student have brought to the fore the question of the relationship of the University to the neighborhood of which it is a part. Penn Faculty and Staff for Neighborhood Issues (PFSNI) has always argued that the University should have a pro-active stance toward community matters.

At this time of heightened concern and discussion--when President Rodin has made "The Urban Agenda" one of the six academic priorities of her "Agenda for Excellence"--we would like to reiterate the concrete proposals and suggestions offered by PFSNI over the years. The University should be guided by the following understandings and objectives:

  1. The viability of the University of Pennsylvania rests upon the well-being and stability of the surrounding neighborhoods.

  2. The University of Pennsylvania should actively promote the residence of faculty and staff in West Philadelphia, where they can work with their neighbors and community associations to improve living conditions in the area.

  3. While we welcome the increased attention to the policing of the campus and nearby streets, the long term security of both the University and the neighborhood cannot be achieved through police power alone. It requires instead a wider approach. To that end, PFSNI calls for following programs:
    a) Recruitment.The University should actively encourage all new faculty and staff hires to join the West Philadelphia community as residents.
    b) Guaranteed Mortgage Program. The University should restrict the mortgage benefit to faculty and staff who choose to live in West Philadelphia, and every effort should be made to improve the present program substantially, for example, by offering subsidies and by reaching agreements with local banks for reduced interest rates.
    c) Escort Service. The University should immediately reexamine escort service policies and consider possibly returning to the terms of the original mandate to serve University residents of West Philadelphia.
    d) Sanitation and Lighting. The University should increase pressure on local landlords and students living off campus to keep their properties clean; landlords should install effective outside lighting. The University should accelerate efforts with other local institutions to reinstitute a Special Services District in the area.
    e) Housing Properties. The University should work with local community associations to rehabilitate residential properties that could be sold or rented to faculty (particularly junior faculty), staff, and graduate students.
    f) Commercial Properties. The University needs to use its commercial properties more effectively to promote a more lively street life, to expand retail services, and to encourage existing businesses to remain in the area. Too much local buying power is spent elsewhere. The current policies and practices of University City Associates (UCA) need reexamination. More aggressive efforts are needed to redevelop the 40th Street and the Baltimore Avenue commercial corridors.
    g) Schools. The University should expand efforts to create excellent public schools in the neighborhood. Ideally, the University should form alliances with local public schools that would have faculty and University students working with teachers and school children. Here the Graduate School of Education should play a leading role.
    h) Consultation. The University should systematically involve faculty and staff who live in West Philadelphia and neighborhood organizations in any and all decisions that impact local communities. The University should also use the vast expertise of the faculty in formulating new programs and initiatives.

-- Members, PFSNI Steering Committee:
Lynn Lees, Professor and Chair, History;
Walter Licht, Professor of History, Associate Dean/Graduate Studies, SAS;
Richard Shell, Professor and Chair, Legal Studies, Wharton School


Volume 43 Number 9
October 22, 1996

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