East campus update

Imagine tossing a Frisbee with friends at a sparkling new Penn-owned park along the Schuylkill River. To the east, the Center City skyline soars. To the north, a row of sidewalk cafés attracts students and city residents alike along a rebuilt Walnut Street.

And the Schuylkill Expressway—which has blocked University City residents from the waterfront for decades—is nowhere to be seen.

Such a dream scenario may not be entirely far-fetched, Penn development officials say. With the University now in the process of developing its so-called “east campus” on a swath of land between campus and the Schuylkill River, there’s no telling what the future will hold.

In the first of a series of planned town hall meetings about the development, members of the Campus Development Planning Committee updated the Penn community on its efforts thus far to develop the area, an opportunity made possible when the University purchased the huge chunk of land—running along the Schuylkill River from 30th Street Station southward toward the Penn medical complex—from the U.S. Postal Service.

In total, the property is roughly the size of Manhattan’s Battery Park City development, and its key location offers development officials the opportunity to expand recreational, athletic, cultural, academic and residential uses along the campus’ eastern edge. If developed smartly, the property could one day also provide a long sought-after link between Penn and Center City.
“This is a huge area with huge potential,” said Gary Hack, dean of Penn Design, who led the committee presentation.

Hack said the committee had been instructed by the Board of Trustees to take a long-term view of the property. So instead of planning development there based only on what the University needs now, Hack said, the committee will try to create a plan that can also serve Penn well into the future.

“What the trustees said was, ‘Let’s not be shortsighted about these lands,’” Hack said. “What they want is to have us look at what the campus is going to look like in the future.” The process is still in a “very early, very head-scratching, brain-storming” stage, as committee members engage in a “physical investigation” of the lands themselves, Hack said. The University has also hired a consulting firm, Sasaki Associates, to assist in the planning.

The committee plans to host additional town hall meetings later this year.

Originally published on November 17, 2005