Turnaround: The neighborhood is looking good

In the mid-1990s, when urban problems were emerging in West Philadelphia, University President Judith Rodin (CW’66) took stock of the two places she loved—her hometown, West Philadelphia, and her alma mater, Penn—and bonded the two through an impressive set of initiatives.

Now, six years after Penn refocused its attention on the neighborhood and four years after the official launch of the West Philadelphia Initiative, the Current takes a look at Penn’s investments and how the neighborhood has changed.

The results cannot be missed.

Countless meetings between community activists, elected officials, University administrators, students and members of the faculty, along with the mobilization of Penn’s financial and intellectual resources, have revived the urban campus and its surrounding neighborhood.

Penn and West Philadelphia have engaged in a mission to rebuild. The initiative includes a five-part plan to ensure safer and cleaner streets, attract retail amenities, support local businesses, encourage home ownership and improve public education.

But Penn and West Philadelphia are not alone in their efforts. Urban universities nationwide are taking note of West Philadelphia’s transformation. They now look at the West Philadelphia Initiative as a pioneer and a model for their own neighborhood turnarounds.

In this Current special report, we talk to some of the key players in the effort, introduce you to some of the neighbors, and take a look at some of the new retail options. See for yourself how the quality of life in West Philadelphia has dramatically changed for the better.

— Trinh Tran

Originally published on January 24, 2002