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u : 10 January 2006 • 1:33AM -0500

[UC] Fwd: W Post story
by Harley Etienne


Just passing this article on.  It was in today's Washington Post.


>Urban Colleges Learn to Be Good Neighbors
>Universities Also Reap Benefits From Investing in Their Communities
>By Lois Romano
>Washington Post Staff Writer
>Monday, January 9, 2006; A01
>PHILADELPHIA -- Ten years ago, the University of
>Pennsylvania was under siege, its ivy towers
>wreathed by an abandoned industrial wasteland,
>filth and soaring crime. Parents feared for
>their children after two student homicides. The
>neighborhood McDonald's was nicknamed McDeath.
>Students were virtual prisoners on campus.
>Administrators began to worry that enrollment
>was threatened as one of the nation's oldest and
>most prestigious schools was fast developing a reputation as unsafe.
>"They had one of two choices after the murders.
>They could build up more barricades, surround
>them with a moat and fill the moat with
>dragons," said Barry Grossbach, a community
>activist in the West Philadelphia neighborhood.
>"Or they could reach out and save the community.
>. . . It was self-preservation."
>Penn chose the latter. The university and
>private developers have invested about a billion
>dollars over the past decade in security,
>retail, schools, the local housing market and
>what Penn refers to as "economic inclusion" --
>making sure the community and minority companies get a piece of the success.
>Today, Penn is the among the hottest schools in
>the country -- sitting smack in the middle of a
>clean and vital retail neighborhood where crime
>has been reduced by 49 percent in the past
>decade, and where students swarm the streets
>shopping at upscale stores. Penn has jumped in
>the U.S. News & World Report college rankings to
>No. 4 and attracts significantly more applicants
>-- successes that school administrators
>attribute in large part to Penn's "West Philadelphia Initiative."
>Penn is at the forefront of a national trend of
>urban colleges that are aggressively trying to
>bridge "town-gown" tensions by investing heavily
>in adjacent troubled neighborhoods -- and by
>making a connection with local civic life. Since
>Penn launched its efforts in 1996, officials
>from more than 100 schools have made pilgrimages
>to study how it transformed a decaying
>neighborhood with a thriving drug traffic into a vibrant college community.
>The sea change on city campuses comes when urban
>school applications are at an all-time high --
>up 14 percent since 2002 -- as the children of
>baby boomers drift away from bucolic academic settings toward the action.
>"The return to urban schools reflects a broad
>shift in popular culture -- cities are cool
>again," said Bruce Katz, urban expert at the
>Brookings Institution. Consequently, "there is a
>greater appreciation that a university's
>fortunes reflect the place in which they are
>situated -- there is no separating the
>interests," he added. "They know they have to step up to the plate."
>Many schools have. Yale University -- in the
>notoriously shabby downtown of New Haven, Conn.
>-- has developed retail and office space nearby,
>offered financial incentives to employees to buy
>homes in the neighborhood, and joined with local
>schools to offer tutoring, internships and
>college advisers. Trinity College and local
>partners spent more than $100 million to turn a
>run-down area in Hartford, Conn., beset by
>drive-by shootings and condemned buildings into
>a 16-acre Learning Corridor with four local
>schools. Temple University, in a marginal
>neighborhood in North Philadelphia, is involved
>in running local schools and is working with
>developers to bring in restaurants and retail.
>Clark University in Worcester, Mass., took
>similar steps, improving the historically poor
>and run-down area around the college by opening
>a school that starts in seventh grade,
>renovating housing and providing funding to refurbish storefronts.
>In Columbia University's historic struggle with
>Harlem in 1968, the school proposed building a
>gym near the campus, touching off neighborhood
>opposition and the student takeover of five
>buildings. Facing new suspicions over expansion
>plans, the school established a 40-member
>community advisory council in 2003 to assure
>residents that the plans will come with job
>training, jobs and opportunity for small businesses.
>In the District, schools have struggled to
>smooth community tensions brought on by campus
>expansion and rowdy students. At Howard
>University, administrators started investing in
>the community about a decade ago, agreeing to
>rehabilitate 28 run-down, boarded-up houses that
>the school had owned for 30 years, and had once
>intended for use in an expansion. Howard took a
>loss to offer the homes at reasonable prices to
>university staff members. Community relations improved overnight.
>Howard established its Center for Urban Progress
>to tie academic programs to work in the
>community, and last August opened a magnet
>middle school on campus. The college is working
>to develop a new residential-retail center on
>Georgia Avenue that it hopes will bring life back to community streets.
>"We sees ourselves as an extension of the
>community," said Maybelle Taylor Bennett,
>director of the Howard University Community
>Association. "It's enlightened self-interest."
>The issues are different for Georgetown
>University and George Washington University,
>which are in upscale residential and business
>areas that do not need the intervention and
>financial support required by Hartford or West
>Philadelphia. Still, seeking to maintain strong
>relations, the two schools established a 24-hour
>hotline so neighbors can report loud parties or
>other inappropriate student behavior.
>As a case study, Penn's urban renewal effort is
>probably the most comprehensive -- targeting
>every service and institution that makes a
>community vibrant. The university restored
>shuttered houses and offered faculty incentives
>to move into the neighborhood; invested $7
>million to build a public school; brought in a
>much-needed 35,000-square-foot grocery store and
>movie theater; and offered the community
>resources such as hundreds of used Penn computers.
>"We said we teach our students about civic
>engagement. You can't do that and not be role
>models for civic engagement," said former Penn
>president Judith Rodin, who was a catalyst in the renewal efforts.
>But Penn was a long time coming to that
>philosophy, and when it began its overtures the
>community was skeptical. In the 1950s and '60s,
>the university -- with the help of federal and
>local officials -- displaced residents to
>expand. Homes were abandoned, businesses fled,
>crime took over -- and Penn simply fortified its walls.
>"We destroyed a neighborhood that had existed
>for 50 years. And we replaced it with a
>neighborhood that had no life, no vibrancy on
>the streets," said Omar Blaik, Penn's senior
>vice president for facilities and real estate services.
>"The animus," Rodin said, "was legitimate."
>Rodin arrived in 1994 at a low point for the
>university. During her first month, a
>26-year-old graduate student was robbed and
>killed outside his West Philadelphia apartment.
>By mid-1996, 30 armed robberies had occurred
>near the university, an undergraduate was shot
>and wounded, and Vladimir Sled, a Russian
>doctoral student, was stabbed to death trying to thwart a robbery.
>"We hit the wall," recalled Maureen Rush, Penn's
>vice president for public safety.". . . It was
>clearly becoming an issue for admissions."
>Administrators quickly agreed that there had to
>be a full-scale assault on the problem. The
>first steps were to form a partnership with
>community leaders and neighborhood associations
>and to light the neighborhood, clean it and make
>it green. Lights were enhanced at 1,200
>properties, and 400 trees were planted as well as 10,000 flower bulbs.
>Gradually, university buildings were refaced to
>open out toward the streets, and all new
>buildings had ample windows facing the street,
>making the school appear welcoming and providing
>additional lighting on the streets for safety.
>The school spends more than $20 million annually
>on security -- among the highest amount in the
>country. It employs 350 security officers and
>100 sworn police officers, who operate out of a station on campus.
>So heightened is the concern over security today
>that a recent uptick in robberies near campus
>triggered a quick and intensive response. The
>school enlisted the help of a patrol task force
>from the city police department, and added
>street lighting and surveillance cameras at
>intersections to the 300 already around the campus.
>But in 1996, even with cleaner, greener and
>safer streets, businesses were not rushing back,
>saying it was too risky to be a pioneer. "We'd
>lay out the red carpet -- we'd even plan the
>path so they wouldn't see anything
>unattractive," Blaik said. "But we'd still get a
>letter saying, 'No, thank you.' "
>It was clear that if the neighborhood was going
>to be developed, Penn had to cover much of the
>risk. Rodin went to the board of trustees for
>seed money -- dismaying faculty members who
>thought the money should be spent on academics.
>The trustees bought into the vision. Within a
>few years, Penn moved its bookstore off campus
>to encourage foot traffic, and brought in
>retailers such as Urban Outfitters and the Gap.
>Today, there is a waiting list of retailers and
>developers. The most recent project is a $100
>million development of apartments and commercial space.
>To bring back residents, Penn spent several
>million dollars renovating 20 dilapidated houses
>and priced them so middle-class residents could
>afford them. Nearly 1,000 employees have
>accepted the incentives to buy homes in the community.
>But most people agree that the most important
>thing the university did was commit to build a
>public school. "That changed everything," said
>Tony Sorrentino, director of external affairs
>for the facilities office. "It brought families back."
>The Penn Alexander School, which covers
>kindergarten through eighth grade, is an airy,
>glassy building that sits right outside of
>Penn's campus and serves 500 students. Penn's
>education department plays a major role in
>developing the school's curriculum and hiring
>its teachers. Penn has committed $1,000 per
>student annually for 10 years to ensure the
>quality of the school remains stable.
>"The goal was to solidify and stabilize the
>neighborhood," said Nancy Streim, associate dean
>for graduate and professional education. She is
>working on plans for an international studies high school.
>Today, Penn's popularity is such that it accepts
>about 20 percent of applicants, compared with 37
>percent a decade ago, said Lee Stetson, dean of
>undergraduate admissions. And with much of the
>infrastructure done or in planning stages,
>administrators say that they have the time to
>further personalize their commitment to the community.
>To that end, Penn is in the process of opening a
>community health clinic at a high school. The
>medical center offers a "Service Learning
>Academy" to high school students interested in
>health care, and a cardio-cancer center will
>create 1,500 jobs. For the first time, Penn this
>fall invited local high school students to
>campus for a tour -- 600 showed up. An
>administrator e-mails the Penn community weekly,
>itemizing the community's needs and asking for volunteers.
>"This is the time to move forward with a very
>people-friendly plan for the neighborhood," Amy
>Gutmann, Penn's president, said as she ticked
>off a long list of current programs and future
>plans. "It's very important not to be
>complacent. All this is what keeps Penn riding high."
>© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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