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Speaking Out
January 16, 2007, Volume 53, No. 18

The University on the Schuylkill

The Master Plan, Penn Connects, to add the 30th Street Post Office property to Penn’s campus is very creative, as far as it goes. Master planning is like shaping a horseshoe, though, requiring hammering on the anvil with many trials to get a perfect fit. So, I would like to make these suggestions to help shape the big picture for campus.

First, a keystone of the whole plan is to capitalize on the revenue opportunities of the Post Office Building, itself. This George Wharton Pepper-designed building has unique income opportunities that require aggressive thinking. Does any other campus have AMTRAK trains connecting the whole USA in their basement? If NYC can move their major train station into their Post Office next door, we, too, must find Penn’s silk purse in our new basement.  And Penn must think creatively, too, about the invigorating opportunity to build elegant and prime high-rise office and residential towers right through the roof of the 30th Street Post Office, generating income to finance other Master Plan projects. Why do anything less?

Secondly, the Schuylkill Expressway, walling in the south and east sides of the new land from the river, is dangerous, crumbling, antiquated and in need of the Federal and State governments to rethink this stretch of such a major highway through Philadelphia. The Crosstown Expressway, intended to bulldoze through South Street, was never built but its ramps at the South Street Bridge are death-defying and are in bad locations for today’s campus traffic. There are better locations for the major entrances to the campus; Penn ought to promote digging a tunnel under the middle of Schuylkill River, to replace the expressway and locate city and campus entrances where they should be for Philadelphia and Penn, today. Without studying these opportunities, Penn Connects will handicap its future by being shoehorned onto parcels leftover from the design of a sixty-year old expressway. This study may show that the South Street Bridge, itself, should become the defining pedestrian bridge, a Penn “Ponte Vecchio” with shops, apartments and without any cars there at all. Why do anything less?

Thirdly, embracing a new image of “The University of Pennsylvania on the Schuylkill River” is a thrilling new definition of Penn. Hiding the expressway in a tunnel and demolishing that ugly elevated barrier will reopen a riverfront at least one mile long for Penn’s use; and there are miles of safe Schuylkill River right there for water sports, activities, competition and festivals similar to those that Dartmouth on the Connecticut, Princeton on Lake Carnegie and Harvard on the Charles River have for their students, faculty and community. Why do anything less for Penn?

I hope these ideas will help the plan fit even better. There is, however, an urgency to grasp the planning leadership with the power of a czar and the zeal of a missionary, because the PA Department of Transportation seems to be merrily proceeding, cart before the horse, designing a reincarnation of the South Street Bridge for cars and ramps right in the middle of campus, before these fundamental questions about the use of the Post Office Building, about where Penn’s prime entrances ought to be for tomorrow and about recapturing the original bank of the Schuylkill River for the University, have been answered.

—Gardner A. Cadwalader, C ’70, GAR ’75

Response

We thank Mr. Cadwalader for his letter and appreciate his thoughtful comments on Penn Connects­—A Vision for the Future, our long term campus development plan, and concur with his sentiments that a comprehensive strategy is needed to mitigate outdated uses and engage this urban landscape.

Of the many principles outlined in the plan, enlivening the connections to University City, and campus, is critical. To that end our plan guides land use and urban design strategy to enhance the Walnut Street corridor by replacing an industrial zone with a mixture of relevant uses in recreation, office, retail, and residential. This approach supports both the strategic priorities of the University, and the ongoing revitalization of University City, while also stimulating economic development for the Philadelphia region. 

 The redevelopment of 24 acres of former Post Office buildings and surface lots provides the opportunity to establish connections with the beautiful new Schuylkill Banks Park and trail along the eastern edge of river, the transportation hub of 30th Street Station, and West Center City which is coming alive with the new public and private investments.  

 The benefits of such a strategy will prepare Penn for the 21st Century to fulfill its role as a global academic and research institution, and engine of the economic, cultural, and intellectual vitality of Philadelphia.

—Craig R. Carnaroli,
Executive Vice President

 

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues will be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday’s issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated. —Eds.

Almanac - January 16, 2007, Volume 53, No. 18