"BUT WE CANNOT do it alone," she adds. "And the entity with whom we need to work the most closely is the community. It isn't about Penn doing for the community or to the community. It is with the community."
Even if Penn is "leveraging its resources" rather than spending its own money, it is still taking a costly, multi-pronged approach to the problem. Whether that will result in a West Philadelphia renaissance or a herd of white elephants remains to be seen. But as Dr. Ira Harkavy, C'70, Gr'79, notes: "Anything that focuses on a single-pronged attempt -- by the nature of not looking at the enormous interrelated complexity that exists in an advanced society -- will necessarily fail."
Back in 1969, Harkavy was a shaggy-haired leader of the student protests against Penn's urban-demolition efforts and its involvement with the University City Science Center. Now, as the bald associate vice president and director of Penn's Center for Community Partnerships -- an office created under former president Dr. Sheldon Hackney, Hon'93 -- he is dealing with many of the same issues from the inside. The times, they have a'changed.
On the whole, universities have done a "heap of learning" in the last 30 years, and are now well aware that their "futures are indeed intertwined with their locality," he says. While part of their acceptance of that reality stems from "immediate self-interest, of recruitment and retention of faculty, staff, and students," universities are also under increasing pressure to solve the problems of society. As a result, trying to solve the nation's staggering urban problems can have considerable academic benefits. At the same time, Harkavy suggests, there is a "growing concern about civic responsibility and citizenship and development of young people in a democratic society."
This is all in line with the vision of Benjamin Frankin, he adds. "What was the purpose of the College of Philadelphia? 'To educate young people with an inclination, joined with an ability, to serve.'"
Everyone in the administration, from Rodin on down, recites the same basic list of needs for the area around Penn, and they've obviously done some listening: to community activists, elected officials, students, and members of the faculty, some of whom are considered experts in these matters. The neighborhood, they say, needs to be safe and clean; it needs a set of excellent school options; it needs a good mix of attractive, affordable residential housing; it needs vastly improved retail options and nightlife; and it needs more job opportunities through economic development.
Carol Scheman, Penn's vice president for government, community, and public affairs, acknowledges that the efforts will be "expensive and time-consuming, and some of them will require a lot of consensus-building and political groundwork." But, she adds: "I don't think they're complicated. This is as far away from nuclear physics as you can get. I think we all know exactly what has to be done."
"Whatever the specific issues with details of the plan," says Dr. Dennis Culhane, associate professor in the School of Social Work and a University City resident, "one must remember that the administration wouldn't really have a plan if they couldn't get the approval of the trustees to spend the money ... The administration should be credited with being able to sell the trustees on what looks like a potentially significant effort. Other administrations may have had good intentions for community improvement, but they didn't deliver on the resources."
"Penn's role is very much that of a catalyst," says John Fry, the University's executive vice president. "Penn can't by itself make everything work. But I have a lot of confidence in this area. It's been forgotten about, but all the elements to be a really successful place are there." Ultimately, he says, "We'd like University City to be what Cambridge is to Harvard."
They've got their work cut out for them. Continued...
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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 11/13/97