Street smart

Anne PapageorgePhoto credit: Candace diCarlo

It’s not every day, Anne Papageorge knows, that one is given the opportunity to change of the face of an entire city. But Papageorge has been fortunate to do just that for much of the past two decades. She spent 18 years in New York City government as Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Design and Construction before moving over to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC)—the agency responsible for redeveloping the World Trade Center site.

There, Papageorge first worked as Memorial Design Director, then moved into the role of Senior Vice President, where she was responsible for the cultural component of the World Trade Center reconstruction, including the memorial, the museum, the visitors center and performing arts center.

Eventually, however, she tired of government bureaucracy and, seeking a place where she could still work for the public good, Papageorge landed at Penn last year. As the Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services, Papageorge heads up the planning, design and construction of projects and oversees the real estate portfolio and the maintenance and operations of campus buildings. “Not all institutions and not all leaders support or, frankly, understand the correlation between high design quality and the daily activity that occurs there,” she says. “We certainly believe this institution believes that quality design provides the proper environment for the best of research and the best of education to occur. That makes our job that much better.”

Q. Was working at the LMDC an unusual job because of the emotional nature of rebuilding where the World Trade Center had been? You dealt with not only the city and state, but also families of victims.
A. I worked 18 years in city government before that and my agency, which was the Department of Design and Construction, actually was responsible for the debris removal operation of the World Trade Center. Now we didn’t do that alone—it was a multi-agency effort, with fire and police and transportation, but I think after working on the deconstruction, we all felt a strong need to do something positive. Many of us ended up going to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to work really on the rebuilding as opposed to the cleaning up of the construction.
I thought after 18 years in city government I had seen everything. I did work for 24 different city agencies because we had centralized design and construction in New York City, so I worked for corrections, cultural institutions, schools, health centers, day care centers, firehouses—we had done just about every building type in public work, but I underestimated the press and public interest in the [LMDC] job and how much that detracted from the work because it consumed a huge amount of your time. Design and construction pretty much flies under the radar screen in mass media—in New York City at least, and even here. You had to be really strong in staying focused on what you were trying to do or else you could so easily get sidetracked.
The second thing I underestimated was how much the mainstream public became interested in design and construction issues, which had never really happened in my 20 years in New York City. All of a sudden, the Post and Daily News had these design or planning editorials. We did more community meetings then I have ever done. We must have had one a week between the different constituent groups, the family groups, the cultural advisory groups, the community groups and the neighborhood.
And because of those two things, it just became more political than I had ever seen. Decisions were so influenced by what was happening in those two areas that sometimes I think that design and planning got compromised in the process. There were days that we would go home and we would say, ‘How am I going to go back to work the next day?,’ because you would be somewhat disappointed. But you’d dig down deep and you’d remember why you went there and that you were really trying to help New York recover.

Q. Was it the politics that led up to you moving from the public sector to a private, nonprofit institution?
A. Well, a little bit of that, but I wouldn’t say it was the politics. I was 12 years into my city career [in 1997] and I was faced with this decision of, ‘Do I buy back my pension?’ It was this crazy thing. I was never in the pension system. I became a permanent employee at that year. I knew that I would stay maybe until the 20-year landmark, which is a big landmark in pensions. So as those years started to get closer to 20, I said, ‘What do I want to do next?’ and I started to do that soul-searching about what do I like about what I’ve done so far and what don’t I like and where’s the right fit. And what I like about government is you’re working for the public good and you have the ability to work on wonderful projects that influence a lot of people. But what I disliked was the bureaucracy and how difficult it was to either procure services or hire people. That was always a long, laborious process. So where can I find the purpose that I love but hopefully less of the bureaucracy? The arts and education or higher ed were the two areas that I focused my attention in looking for my next home. That took a long time. I probably interviewed at half a dozen universities over the last five years looking for what they felt was the right fit and what they felt was the right fit and it just seemed—when the Penn opportunity came along, it was just meant to be.

Q Why did Penn seem like a good fit?

A. President Gutmann and the senior leadership team have set out what I consider to be a high-quality, innovative vision for Penn through Penn Connects and the Penn Compact. They hired quality consultants who did an inclusive process that involved a broad array of constituents that looked at the existing site conditions and the need and really came up with an exciting plan that builds bridges between Center City and Penn and also between the core campus and these newly acquired postal lands. I thought that it was solid planning and good leadership.
The other thing was, the more you move into middle management and senior management, who you work for is really important. I just found that the people I met in the process were innovative and entrepreneurial and really were looking at better ways of doing things as opposed to continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done. That was very attractive to me.
And the third thing is really more personal—I grew up in Monmouth County, New Jersey. I recently bought a house four years ago on the shore and wherever I went, I wanted to be a distance where I could get there. My mother, my brother, my sister and their families are still in that vicinity. Philly is about an hour and 15 minutes away. It was urban, which was important to me, but was still within close reach of my little escape on the Jersey shore.

Q. Were you familiar with Philadelphia as a city, having grown up so close?
A. Yes, and I came here two times the year before I even knew about this search to look at the Constitution Center. We came with a big team of World Trade Center Memorial staff and LMDC staff to look at that project as a comparable. The second time, we came to look at the exhibit design within the Constitution Center.
As a child, we of course, came to Philadelphia to learn about American history and I had looked at Philly a couple of times in my professional career. Right after graduation, I actually interviewed for a few jobs around here. I knew I wanted to be in a city, and so New York and Philly were competing. For my MBA, I looked at Wharton, but ended up deciding I wasn’t going to be able to commute and keep my job and do either one justice. So I stayed in New York and did it in New York.

Q. Let’s talk about Penn Connects. This project seems to have the potential to change Penn dramatically. What are the overarching goals?
A. The plan is all about connectivity, so one of the things that we’ve made a tiny little step towards is as you enter Walnut Street, there’s this disjointed gap between when you leave Center City and when you cross the threshold of the trestle that says University of Pennsylvania. One of the things that I think will be key—the gap or disconnect that exists today will be gone once we start to build developments along Walnut Street. You will come across a mixed use of hotel, office and condominiums along Walnut, which will animate the street along with its ground-floor retail. That will also happen along Chestnut Street with the second tower. So two main thoroughfares entering and exiting West Philadelphia will now be vibrant instead of abandoned buildings, which is what they are today.

Q. Do you think that connection can actually happen? You’re dealing with a natural boundary—the Schuylkill River—that physically divides the city. That’s a lot to overcome.
A. But look at other urban cities like Paris. They cross bridges and connect between neighborhoods very easily. It’s just seen as another neighborhood. It’s another borough of sorts, but it’s still part of a greater city. I think it’s certainly possible. I walk that stretch to get to work. I’m living at 22nd and Arch in Logan Square and I’m amazed how in 10 minutes, maybe five, I can be from Center City to my office. It’s not a big stretch. The Schuylkill’s not this insurmountable difference. It will have a character of it’s own, but that’s okay.
Relocating some non-academic functions east allows Penn breathing room to grow within its core academically to accommodate the needs of new technologies and new multidisciplinary studies. At the same time, that vacating into these new spaces allows us to go back and upgrade the spaces that are beloved on this campus with interior renovations and exterior restorations.
I think this gives us a unique opportunity to expand adjacent to our existing campus which Columbia and Harvard are not able to do because they’re displacing neighborhoods. We’re basically filling an empty neighborhood that had been abandoned because of relocation of the postal office closer to the airport.

Q. What will we see in a few years’ time?

A. What you’ll see real quickly is Penn Park, which is converting 14 acres of parking lots to athletic and urban park space that can be used both for organized sports and also for recreational activities for all of the Penn community. There’s four or five fields, parking, and quite a bit of what we call open space—urban parks with walkways and paths of recreation that I think will allow a group of students to play touch football or take a stroll. There will be 12 tennis courts.
The other project is the infill of the arcade of the north side of Franklin Field and that will be a weight room—a recreation facility. The first phase is to do the interior reconstruction. The grade changes will come as we get into the park development.

Q. Any environmental concerns about the site? There’s a lot of rail tracks and industry along there.
A. The post office in our agreement of sale includes a buyer-seller agreement to clean a couple of areas, but overall, it is a relatively good site despite the fact that it has transportation uses.

Q. There’s been a lot of talk recently about Penn’s environmental commitment. What is Penn doing exactly?
A. I was asked within my first few weeks [at Penn] to prepare a presentation on what Penn does in sustainability, so we started, along with Business Services, to inventory what we were doing across the University. What we found out is we were doing quite a bit. It was never integrated and coordinated.
President Gutmann received a request to sign the President’s Climate Commitment, which is a group of university presidents who agree to work toward developing a plan within two years to get to carbon neutrality.
I was asked by Craig [Carnaroli], if should President Gutmann sign it. And we debated it here. David Hollenberg, university architect, and I looked at our inventory, looked at what the commitment was asking for and we found that of the six things they wanted us to do, we were already doing three of them. President Gutmann signed and has since, made it part of her commencement address, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” was part of the Penn Reading Project. Just by heightening awareness, things are falling into place. In June, we kicked off an advisory group, which has faculty, students and staff on it.
In addition, we’ve been working on what’s called our carbon footprint so that we can measure our reductions, our improvements against a benchmark.

Q. How is Penn doing, and where are its strengths?
A. We’re doing better than we thought. We were rated a ‘B’ last year by the Endowment Institute, which, considering that was before we focused on it, we’re pretty pleased with. And we’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll actually get a better grade this year.
The areas where we’re strongest is in energy. We buy 30 percent of our energy from renewable resources—wind. We’re actually looking to increase that. We received last year, and we’ve been getting it for the past several years, the EPA’s Green Power Award for being a leader in wind energy.
The other area that we’re very efficient in is in utility management, conservation. It took Penn, I’m told, 18 to 20 years, but we’ve recently completed what’s called the central chilled water loop. We have a centralized heating and air conditioning system instead of a decentralized system, which is far more efficient. We also get high marks for engaging our constituent group, our stakeholders. I think the fact that we’ve created our committee will get us some additional points this year in that area.
We do a bit in recycling but because we’re such a large campus and we’re so decentralized, I think there’s room for us to do more there.

Q. Where are some other areas that you hope Penn can improve?
A. We’re looking to transportation. We do quite a bit with the Penn Transit system and also encouraging bicycle paths. We’re looking at that to see whether we can encourage higher ridership and bus cars. Communications—we’re going to be working on enhancing the website and also Business Services is looking at creating links to a sustainability component of our site. If you want to know how to buy recycling cans, it’s going to be on the web. We’re trying to make it far more transparent and easier to get information and resources.

Q. Is it your hope that Penn can influence other large universities or even corporations to take on environmental issues?
A. The Provost’s office has recently done an inventory of all the coursework that revolves around environmental issues and sustainability and there’s quite a bit going on across campus. Without us even asking, courses popped up this semester. Professor [Robert] Giegengack and Stan Laskowski are teaching a class called “Towards Environmental Sustainability.” We’re actually engaging with it—I lectured last week. Our Executive Director of Maintenance and Operations lectured last week.
They have asked us if there are things that we would like work done on that some of the students can potentially work on.
There’s a lot of interest in corporate America to invest in sustainable technologies or in more efficient carbon technologies, but they don’t have the projects or the research yet. I think higher ed can create the seeds that corporate entities who are looking at the future of their investment strategies are willing to put resources into.

Q. How does all of this affect the bottom line? It is cost-beneficial to do all of these sustainable efforts?
A. Part of our analysis is looking at return on investment. That’s not to say every project will always have a great payback. Sometimes, you do things for their educational value or their symbolic value that maybe are not as financially cost-effective. That being said, a lot of what we’re seeing initially has very good return on investment.
For example, we can recalibrate our mechanical systems so they operate more efficiently so we’re not cooling air and then reheating it. Or we can fix old windows that are not thermal or we can [install] green roofs to reduce the heat load on our roofs.
There are definitely things that we’re already starting to do that have one-year paybacks—which is a great payback. When I was in city government, if we were under seven years, it was considered a good payback.
I think the Endowment Institute said part of being sustainable is being cost-effective. If you don’t use your resources properly, then you won’t be around as an institution. They’re not advocating for you to do it at all costs—they’re advocating for responsible use of resources.

Q. There are some building projects that are being constructed according to LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, standards. Talk about that.
A. Under construction, the Center for Applied Medicine has LEED goals, as will the School of Medicine’s new research building. In addition, the Music Building, which is a addition-renovation, also is seeking LEED standards. The Morris Arboretum is planning a new education community outreach center and are shooting for very high standards, even platinum. Then neurobehavioral sciences are proposing LEED standards. The Radian is going to have a green roof, as is English Court. That should be done in the next few weeks.
We’re looking for opportunities. We’re also evaluating whether in fact we should have a minimum standard. Right now, we encourage it, it’s included in our design guidelines, but we don’t require it. Sometimes, when you’re a little over budget, it’s one of those things that ends up getting cut even though the payback is usually a good one. I think the visibility and will make people less likely to cut it because I think we push it more.

Q. How do you like living in Philadelphia?

A. Certainly it’s different than New York, but what I like about it is has a lot of the qualities of the boroughs of New York. I lived in Brooklyn for 20 years. For me, it’s very much like Brooklyn—it’s still a city, an urban center which has the culture and the activity of an urban environment, but it doesn’t have some of the negatives of being in a very populated, congested city like New York. I find it has a more human scale to it, so when you walk along the streets you feel like it’s friendly to a pedestrian, as opposed to skyscrapers.
In University City, there’s a lot of green, and I love the fact that I can walk to a lot of places. It takes a lot of stress out of your daily life. Commuting in traffic or sitting in a subway for a half and hour to 45 minutes with people right up against you—it’s amazing how much it takes out of you every day.
That being said, it’s not laid back, at least not here at Penn. We’re very busy.

Originally published Oct. 4, 2007.

Originally published on October 4, 2007