Penn-Spruce Hill Effort Wins Award

The "Spruce Hill Community Renewal Plan," a blueprint for the future of the neighborhood adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania, has received the Pennsylvania Planning Association's (PPA) top award for "comprehensive planning by a small community."

The Plan, a product of community-Penn cooperation that describes the past, analyzes the present and prescribes the future of the one-square-mile community immediately west of the Penn campus in University City, was formally unveiled to the community in October 1995, after a process that included enormous community input with help from the Center for Community Partnerships at Penn.

The PPA recognized the Plan as one of five "projects that contribute significantly to planning in Pennsylvania" in late October 1996. Ted Dorand of the PPA called it "a fine example for other similar communities to follow." Patrick Starr, president of the SHCA, said: "This award is proof of the commitment and talent that Spruce Hill is so blessed with. It also demonstrates what can happen when the University of Pennsylvania connects its intellectual resources with those of the community."

N. R. Popkin, former head of the Program in Community Planning at Penn's Center for Community Partnerships and current Managing Director of the Market Street Development Corporation, was the plan's principal author. Harmon Zuckerman, who currently runs the Program in Community Planning, assisted Popkin in drafting the plan. Both were students in Penn's City and Regional Planning program during its creation.

The Plan states that sustaining Spruce Hill's revitalization requires investment in human resources, organizations, institutions, amenities and housing. It then recommends ways to implement neighborhood-wide strategies to reduce crime, radically improve local schools, provide quality housing for residents of all income levels, promote high-quality retail services, maintain Spruce Hill's sense of community and diversity, provide job opportunities for residents, and protect and highlight the area's unique architecture and neighborhood design.

Since its adoption, the SHCA has led the effort to implement the Plan, and these efforts have already borne some fruit. To begin with, the association's own membership has swelled to three times what it was when the planning process started, and members have taken more active roles on association committees.

The SHCA has also actively pursued partnerships with institutions, including Penn, and other groups that can lend resources or skills to implement the plan. The group regularly meets with Carol Scheman, Penn's vice president for government, community and public affairs, and has discussed housing and commercial construction, institutional involvement in community planning, and community involvement in institutional planning efforts with representatives from The Community Builders, a non-profit development organization retained by Penn.

The association is also actively pursuing redevelopment of properties in the 4400 block of Sansom Street through the West Philadelphia Partnership Community Development Corporation, and has met with success in getting the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections to address problems with trash and unsafe buildings in the neighborhood.

The Plan, Zuckerman said, "empowers the association and gives it a better shot at obtaining grant money and other funds for development. It's also been a touchstone for activism in the community, because people have had to learn about their neighborhood as they became involved in creating the Plan."

Popkin, the Plan's principal author, said of the document: "The Plan is truly the neighborhood's vision for itself. We helped to bring that vision into focus."

The text of the original Plan is available at the SHCA office, 257 S. 45th St., but its creators envisioned it as a living document, and sections of the Plan have been revised since its adoption. The most current version can be found on the World Wide Web at http://partners.upenn.edu/wp/spruce/.

Originally published on January 28, 1997