Get to know West Philly with OGCA tours

Neighborhood

Steven Minicola

The Office of Government & Community Affairs is offering group tours of West Philadelphia. The tours will be guided by OGCA’s Glenn Bryan, a Penn alumnus, West Philly native, and longtime Penn staffer.

If there is only one thing faculty and staff can do to enrich their Penn experience, Glenn Bryan recommends venturing beyond the comfy campus confines and exploring West Philadelphia.

“Your education will be better-informed if you go past 40th Street,” says Bryan, assistant vice president of community relations in the Office of Government & Community Affairs (OGCA). “[People are] surprised when they learn about the economic development, education, arts, health, diversity, and Penn’s vast amount of local engagement, historically and currently.”

In an effort to bring many of those factors to light, OGCA is offering group tours of West Philadelphia. The tours will be guided by Bryan, a Penn alumnus, West Philly native, and longtime Penn staffer.

Bryan says the tours are designed to provide members of the Penn community a visual overview of the University’s local engagement activities, and the wide range of community partnerships that support Penn. The tour focuses on the University’s role in local public education, health, economic development, and arts and culture.

“Penn is an urban environment, and by virtue of that, there are fantastic service and research opportunities,” Bryan says. “All of the factors we’re looking at [on the tour] give our community, and especially students, a warm, realistic perspective of what Penn does in the area and how they can fit in.”

The evolving, 90-minute tours begin at the University City Science Center at 3600 Market St. and head as far west as Sayre High School at 5800 Walnut St., passing landmarks along the way that include the University City District headquarters, Penn Alexander and Lea schools, The Enterprise Center, Penn’s Living Independently for Elders (LIFE) program, commercial corridors such as Lancaster Avenue, Baltimore Avenue, and 52nd Street, and Clark and Malcolm X parks.

Many of the featured tour spots were chosen to highlight the Penn community’s involvement in the surrounding neighborhood. Such examples include Wharton Small Business Development Center’s assistance in incubating local businesses at The Enterprise Center, OGCA’s involvement in developing the new West Philadelphia High School location, and the interdisciplinary partnerships that helped bring to life the state-of-the-art Dr. Bernett Johnson Sayre Health Clinic at Sayre High School.

West Philly

Scott Spitzer

The evolving, 90-minute tours begin at the University City Science Center and head as far west as Sayre High School. Many of the featured tour spots were chosen to highlight the Penn community’s involvement in the surrounding neighborhood.

“People can get a feel for what the community looks like—demographically, socioeconomically, racially,” Bryan says. “They’ll see that there are disparities, but also that there are people working hard each day. They’ll learn it’s important to perceive communities not for their deficiencies, but for their strengths.”

OGCA first began offering the tours in 2004, after Bryan guided a then-newly inaugurated President Amy Gutmann through the neighborhood. He’s since hosted more than 1,800 people on the tour and says he hopes participants are inspired to better familiarize themselves with the University, the neighborhood, and their shared histories.

“It’s not a one-and-done tour,” Bryan says. “It’s to wet folks’ feet in terms of getting an understanding of the dynamics of the West and Southwest Philadelphia community and Penn’s engagement with it.”

Faculty and staff interested in organizing group tours should contact OGCA. Groups are asked to provide their own means of transportation.

For more information or to schedule a tour, contact Bryan at 215-898-3565 or email gbryan@upenn.edu.

Originally published on September 12, 2013