While a number of elements in the plan are contingent on funding, logistics, or other factors, the very first thing the University will do, once it takes possession and gets all the necessary clearances, is to dig up the asphalt and turn it into green space. Reversing the lyrics of the old Joni Mitchell song, Penn will tear up “parking lots to put up a bit of paradise,” says Gutmann.

“This is not 20 years out, this is two years out.”

Fields for softball, soccer, and multi-purpose recreation are envisioned, along with more purely park-like areas. Planners estimate that, by about 2010, campus green space will have increased about 20 percent as a result. Landscaping will create a series of grass terraces, accommodating flooding in the low-lying areas and rising to the height of the bridges, where a boardwalk will be built to link Walnut and South streets and provide views to the river, past the train tracks and highway.

Right now, pedestrians trying to reach, say, Bower Field, must pass by the Hunter Lott Tennis Courts in front of the Palestra, walk through the parking lot between the Hutchinson Gym and Franklin Field, and traverse a narrow footbridge and circular stairway—only to find themselves in another parking lot adjacent to the Levy Tennis Pavilion. In the future, the approach to the new fields will serve to extend Locust Walk to the river’s edge while creating a new frame to highlight the Palestra and Franklin Field.

The tennis courts will be moved to Highline Park at 31st and Chestnut to make way for a new open space—a sunken lawn with shade trees and seating areas—that will improve the view of the western façade of the Palestra, while the parking lot will become a new plaza leading to the sports and recreation fields, reached by a series of ramps and stairs bridging over the existing SEPTA train tracks.

Along with renovations to the Palestra and Hutch, construction of a new field house will include a deck over the SEPTA line connecting the area to Walnut Street to the north, and also extending to South Street. Immediately adjacent to the South Street bridge would be an 800-car parking garage below the bridge level, with a multi-purpose field built over the top level of the parking deck. Besides adding recreational space, this would also let people get a good look at Franklin Field’s eastern façade and create a “green gateway” to the campus from South Street. The deck might later be extended over I-76.

Other plans for the South Street corridor include a new cultural building to the west of the Hollenback Center and a possible addition to the Penn Museum, following the demolition of an existing parking garage.

“If I had to pick the single most creative part of the plan for Penn and Philadelphia, it would be the walkways—extension of Locust Walk and the extension of Woodland Walk through the campus, connecting West Philadelphia and Center City by your sight lines,” says Gutmann. The reality of the Penn Connects theme is “made most vivid in the plan to get a natural extension of Locust Walk from 34th Street, the center of campus, to the river.”

Besides making aesthetic sense, she adds, it also reinforces community building and makes efficient use of resources. “Franklin Field and the Palestra are iconic buildings. We want to keep those buildings up,” she says. “And if you want to keep them up, you have to make them accessible to people, and they’re not. They’re hidden to people unless you know where they are. So we want to open them up, and invest in our athletic and recreational precinct in a way that will be accessible to more people.”

Extending the walkways also will expand the sense of campus, she notes. Though technically contiguous, the campus doesn’t always feel that way because of the obstacles to walking through it. Remove those obstacles by opening up the space “and it becomes an even more beautiful and vibrant campus,” she says. “I emphasize vibrant, because the vibrancy of urban life has to do with use, and we have large parts of our campus that are not well used because you can’t get to them.”

 

“The other thing which is very important is to create a lively edge along Walnut Street, which is now an industrial wasteland as you come into Penn,” says Gutmann. Under the plan, this area will emerge as “the consummate mixed-use neighborhood,” she adds.

In considering the Walnut Street corridor, the plan looks at development west and east of the Highline—a divide currently marked, as regular commuters know, by the peeling UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA painted on the overpass.

To the west, plans call for construction of a 200,000-gross-square-feet (gsf), 350-bed college house around Hill Square. Combined with Hill House, the buildings would create a new quad that would preserve about 70 percent of the existing open space, as well as the text-based sculpture by Jenny Holzer commemorating 125 years of Women at Penn, dedicated in 2003. The new college house will “create another wonderful quadrangle on campus, leaving the center of Hill Field green, but creating a structured space that is more usable than the space now is,” Gutmann says.

Providing research space for Penn’s burgeoning expertise in nanotechnology [“Small Technology, Big Promise,” May/June 2005] is another priority. The plan proposes a 100,000-gsf facility on the site of a parking lot just east of the LRSM building. “We have a School of Engineering and Applied Science that is on the move,” says Gutmann. “The east campus allows us to build a nanoscience building on the east without isolating it, but rather, it will be integrated into our campus. At the same time it’s going to help foster more technology transfer in Philadelphia.”

In general, developments along this stretch of Walnut are expected to emphasize “learning, research, and support amenities,” according to the plan document. Other academic or research facilities could be developed on the other side of Walnut, in the area north of the Palestra. The ice-rink site might also be redeveloped.

East of the Highline, things get more, well, lively. Planners estimate that about 1.7 million gsf of development is possible, mixing retail, restaurants, and residential space; a possible hotel and conference center; cultural and performance centers; and offices and more research space. This will all happen at the height of the Walnut Street Bridge, constructed on a deck with parking below. Eventually, the plan envisions 30-story mixed-use and 15-story mixed-use and research towers above the deck, but the first building will likely be a “cultural gateway” at the eastern edge. “We’d like to create right off the bat some kind of artistic edge along Walnut,” says Gutmann, “even before all the development is possible.”

More commercial development is likely for the blocks north of Walnut also included in the parcel. As for the historic Post Office building itself, only the branch operations will be kept open. The University is in negotiations with potential tenants—the IRS has been mentioned as one possibility—to occupy the existing office space in the building.

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©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 08/31/06

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COVER STORY: New Campus Dawning
By John Prendergast