Yesterday was Easter Sunday, and across the world most Christians (and Jews for Jesus!) celebrated the resurrection of Christ.
It's a celebration of renewal and rebirth, purposely scheduled to coincide with the advent of spring. Around this time in the liturgical calendar, Christians examine their lives and their faith in an effort to renew their connection with God.
Penn's doing some renewal of its own right now, but this renewal is most decidedly not spiritual - it's urban. But the latest project west of campus - the Campus Inn hotel on 40th and Pine streets - is less a holy resurrection of a dead and dilapidated building and more an unnatural, unwieldy creation of Frankenstein's monster - a grotesquely large beast despised by the local townsfolk. Like Dr. Frankenstein, Penn is madly in love with its creation, and the pleas of the local community seem to be falling on the deaf ears of driven developers.
At Easter Mass, Catholics are asked to reaffirm their faith and renew the vows made at Baptism. It's time for Penn to renew the vows Judith Rodin gave the University City community when she swore that Penn would never again stubbornly push our borders west while leaving all community dissent and disagreement crushed on the slaughter bench of history.
So, following in the Catholic tradition, trustees and administrators, please respond "We do" to the following:
We acknowledge Penn's past sins of greed, pride and gluttony embodied in the devastating and immoral bulldozing of the Black Bottom. We do.
We swear to uphold Rodin's promise to the West Philadelphia community to "never again expand Penn's campus to the west . into residential neighborhoods." We do.
We recognize that unilateral developments without community support generate terrible amounts of animosity and opposition. Moreover, we recognize that urban renewal projects that undermine a neighborhood's sense of community will ultimately be detrimental to the long-term stability of that neighborhood. We do.
We understand the Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance, which praised the Campus Inn plan, received funding from the Urban Land Institute, which in turn received funding from Campus Apartments, which is a partner in the development of the proposed inn. Thus, they're probably not unbiased and shouldn't be used in defense of the inn. We do.
We acknowledge that the proposed cost per night - just under $200 - is ludicrously high, so any argument suggesting this is needed to help patients' families afford long stays is complete bunk. We do.
We understand that a new hotel with next to no parking spots will create a massive disruption of the currently less-than-stellar parking situation in the surrounding neighborhood.
After all, we now know that Jim Saksa has received at least a dozen parking tickets in the past three years around there, and it'll only get worse after the inn is built. We do.
We recognize that an 11-story building in a neighborhood of 3-story buildings is preposterously out of place, like Yao Ming in a midget convention. Furthermore, we respect the opinion of the Inquirer's architecture critic, Inga Saffron, who called it an "ungainly slab." We do.
At around this time during Easter Mass, Catholics will turn to one another and offer a sign of peace, saying "Peace be with you" as they shake one another's hands. Penn should turn to her neighbors with a sign of peace and an open hand.
None of the neighbors I've spoken to refuses to develop the land.
As Magali Larson, a former Penn professor who has helped spearhead neighborhood resistance put it in an e-mail, "The neighbors would LOVE low-rise commercial development. A sports store, a garden store, even a liquor store, an art store with rental studios in the blasted house, a five-story condo with parking . an architectural history/preservation lab school, you name it."
If an inn is needed, why not across the Schuylkill? Penn boasts of being a major civic leader and an integral part of the larger Philly community.
It's time we act like a real leader - a real neighbor - and show a little Brotherly Love.
Jim Saksa is a College senior from Toms River, N.J. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You Sir, are an Idiot appears on Mondays.
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