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The Sound of Vending

In publishing the revised vending ordinance and accompanying map of vendor locations, Carol A. Scheman writes of "efforts to improve the educational, residential, business, and retail environments here in University City" (Almanac December 9).
Whatever else this plan might do, it surely worsens the educational environment. I speak specifically of the proposal to place six vending trucks and two carts on Chancellor "Street" (the alley between Bennett Hall and the Music Building, and not a "street" in the normal sense of the word).

Four of the five principal classrooms in the Music Building (as well as a number of classrooms in Bennett Hall) open directly out onto this space. The noise that emanates from normal vehicular traffic (doors slamming on cars, trucks beeping as they back up into the Towne Hall loading docks, the ever-present tow trucks hauling away illegally parked cars) and from pedestrians is already high enough to cause frequent interruptions to classes. The addition of eight vendors to this crowded space can only make the din louder and more constant (even if, as I assume would be necessary, a portion of this space is closed off to vehicles to make way for the vendors), and so make it all the more difficult to carry out what I once assumed was the principal business of a university, namely teaching.

I realize that teaching at an urban university means putting up with a fair amount of unavoidable sonic disturbance. In such an environment, one would hope that the administration would try to find ways to help us fulfill our educational mission in the classroom. Instead they seem intent on hindering it.

--Jeffrey Kallberg, Professor of
Music History

'A Dubious Proposition'

The issue of December 9 publishes a draft of the proposed "Vending Ordinance" which will allow for 100 street and sidewalk vending outlets on city streets in the University area.

However, the proposed ordinance does not cover University of Pennsylvania property. Not mentioned in the ordinances locations are five "vendor plaza" installations, all of which are to be located on the campus itself. The dedication of campus property to commercial vendors is a dubious proposition which the University community has never adequately discussed; an urban campus like Penns does not have unlimited space, and to commit any part of its fragile ecology to permanent spoliation by food vending trucks and peddlers stands needs considerable deliberation.

The proposed city ordinance prohibits "electrical generators employing internal combustion" (which all food trucks use) within 100 feet of any classroom, office or housing facility. But the "vendor plaza" installations which the Universitys business management proposes to place on the campus itself drastically violate this provision. On the accompanying map we find that five trucks and four carts are to be located in the loading dock area of Van Pelt-Dietrich Libraries, directly adjacent to our largest study facility. Even more scandalous is that six trucks and two carts are to be placed between the Towne Building, the Music Building, and Bennett Hall, one of the busiest classroom and office centers in the central campus. Several thousand students attend classes in these buildings daily, and hundreds of faculty and staff work in them. The noise and air pollution, the garbage, and the crowds will destroy the ecology of this place and will disrupt one of the most heavily used classroom areas at Penn; the location also clearly violates the proposed city ordinance.

Naturally, the business managers responsible for this scheme have not consulted with the people who teach, study, and work in these three buildings. There has been no consultation with Transportation and the users of parking Lot 21, which is the location for this unnecessary bazaar. There has been no survey to ascertain whether there is any demand for still more cheap food and peddlers goods at 34th and Walnut Streets, only a few feet from the food court at 3401 Walnut Street and from numerous cheap shops on 34th and Sansom Streets.

Consultation and discussion are vital to a collegial community. So far as I know, there has been no clamor for the permanent destruction of an important and fragile part of the central campus to accommodate commercial exploitation. The unknown administrators who wish to permit this scheme need to understand that proceeding without any consultation is a tactic most familiar in totalitarian states but highly unwelcome in collegial places like the University.

The conspiratorial secrecy surrounding this proposalnowhere in your vending article is there any mention of the "vendor plaza" schemeshows that the business side of Penn has lost a sense of the educational mission of the University.

--Paul J. Korshin, Professor of English

Ed.Note: In response to the two letters above, Jack Shannon, managing director of economic development in the Office of the EVP, expects to publish in January additional details of the proposed ordinance, which is now scheduled to go to City Council on January 27.

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. During weekly publication, short timely letters on University issues can be accepted Thursday noon for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. For the next issue of Almanac (January 13, 1998), the deadline for all material is January 6. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated.--Ed.

Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, December 16, 1997, Volume 44, Number 16