The State of University City 2012: Celebrating Neighborhood's Extraordinary Prosperity and Potential
October 9, 2012,
Volume 59, No. 07
University City District (UCD), the neighborhood improvement and economic development organization in West Philadelphia, recently announced the release of The State of University City 2012, a publication that expands on University City’s status as “an engine of prosperity and possibility, innovation and commercial vibrancy as well as a world-class neighborhood with world-class amenities.” More than 50 pages of color charts, statistics, photographs, and stories help demonstrate why University City and its concentration of economic activity are “unmatched in all but a few communities in the country.”
University City, the 2.4 square mile area just west of the Schuylkill River, has become a place where Philadelphia’s future is happening today. It’s a boomtown with roughly 70,000 jobs and $3 billion in current real estate projects. Each year, neighborhood institutions are investing more than $1 billion in research & development (R&D) spending into new cures and innovation, and University City is now home to 27 acres of new green space created in the last year alone, which includes Penn Park (Almanac September 6, 2011). Global innovators, venture capitalists, Iron Chefs, and three hotels all call University City home.
Built on the indispensable foundation of Clean and Safe (Almanac September 2, 1997), UCD has steered its work to match the vision of its partners, and to create new possibilities for the neighborhood. From The Porch at 30th Street Station, (Almanac November 15, 2011) to parklets and pedestrian plazas to transforming public space with art and even a neighborhood composting facility, UCD continues to put its stamp on one of the most vibrant and vital neighborhoods in the region.
The State of University City 2012 illustrates how University City is a place that’s alive, unlike ever before. What follows are some of the neighborhood’s most notable recent accomplishments:
Real Estate Development
- The number of hotel rooms in University City increased to 759 in 2012, a jump of 18% propelled by the opening of the Homewood Suites by Hilton.
- Approximately 2.4 million square feet of new development is currently under construction, representing approximately $1.3 billion in investments.
- Approximately 2.3 million square feet of new development is planned for construction in the next 1-2 years representing hundreds of millions of additional dollars.
- Including planned projects, more than 27 acres of new green space will have been added in 2011 and 2012.
- Despite the slow national economy in 2011, new retail and dining options continued to flourish in University City. Overall, University City’s vacancy rate for ground floor commercial spaces fell from 11.3% to 10.6% as the number of restaurants, cafes and bakeries increased by 5.3% and the number of retail stores increased by 5.5%. Those totals include 19 new dining and drinking establishments in University City.
- In 2011, University City saw an 8% increase in restaurant and sidewalk seating, representing an increase in sidewalk and retail vitality.
- Pedestrian counts continue to grow, particularly on University City’s commercial corridors, including Baltimore Avenue, where the number of pedestrians has increased by 99% at peak times over the last five years.
- UCD’s signature events such as University City Dining Days presented by Wells Fargo, and the Baltimore Avenue Dollar Stroll, which bring thousands of new faces to the commercial corridors and shops, are vastly increasing sales for the local merchants.
Employment and Office Space
- With roughly 70,000 employees, University City accounts for approximately 12% of the city’s total employment, a number that has been increasing consistently.
- The office market continues to be among the strongest in the region with a vacancy rate of 8.8%, the third lowest among 29 regional submarkets.
- University City universities have increased their R&D expenditures in science and engineering by 83% in the last 10 years and by 316% in the last 20 years.
- University City researchers received more than 44% of all NIH funding distributed statewide, as well as more than $42 million from the National Science Foundation, an increase of more than 5% from 2010.
A Neighborhood of Choice
- Median home prices have risen dramatically—more than tripling over ten years—and held their value despite the national housing downturn.
- Enrollment at University City institutions continues to climb, 6% in the last five years, and tellingly, the percentage of graduate students choosing to live in University City has risen dramatically.
- The population of young and educated people in University City has increased dramatically as the total population continues to grow: Residents aged 20-34 increased by nearly 21% between 2000 and 2010; more than 54% of University City residents have a bachelor’s degree or above, representing an increase of nearly 41% since 2000; UC’s population has grown by 2.6% since 2000 and 4.9% since 1990.
- Growth in income is outpacing that in the city overall. Average household income grew by 49% since 2000, compared to 23% in the city overall.
- Thanks to the density, excellent public transit service, and extensive network of bicycle lanes, University City residents overwhelmingly commute without using private vehicles, in stark contrast to the city or nation overall—nearly 66% commute by walking, public transit, or bicycle, compared to 36% in Philadelphia overall and 8% nationally.
To obtain copies, call UCD at (215) 243-0555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Imagining the Next 15 Years
||40th Street Trolley Portal: Over the last year, UCD partnered with SEPTA and a group of neighbors to develop a concept for improvements to the 40th Street Trolley Portal. This scheme, developed with Andropogon Associates, would create a beautiful and lively gateway to the neighborhood, implement sustainability measures on a site that is currently bleak and predominantly concrete, improve safety for pedestrians by rationalizing pedestrian circulation patterns, and increase security by adding active uses and "eyes on the street."