University City, the controversial moniker bestowed on West Philadelphia's eastern district and home to Penn and Drexel University, celebrated its 20th anniversary this week.
A who's who of major University City luminaries, including University City District President Matt Bergheiser, Drexel President John Fry, and Penn Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli, rang in the anniversary with a "State of University City" event at World Cafe Live on Nov. 9.
At the event, speakers discussed neighborhood development over the past 20 years.
Throughout 2017, the University City District has commemorated the milestone with community events and programming, culminating in the "State of University City" event. At the program, Fry, Bergheiser, and Carnaroli discussed neighborhood developments over the past 20 years.
University City was founded in 1997 as the result of a partnership between major institutions in the area, including Penn, Drexel, and the University of the Sciences, that wanted to make the area more attractive to developers and businesses.
But critics mocked this initiative as "Penntrification” and protested the development of real estate north and west of campus that displaced native West Philadelphians in favor of college students and faculty.
“When communities of color can’t come to your library, can’t come to your lawn, when you situate security booths around the perimeter of your campus and keep people out … you’re dismantling a community to create a university as a community,” Chad Dion Lassiter, the president of The Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, Inc. an alumni network for SP2 graduates, told Al Jazeera America.
Philadelphia has 20,000 fewer low-cost rental units than it did in 2000, according to a 2016 Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia study, and West Philadelphia was hit especially harshly by the effects of gentrification.
The area "experienced both intense gentrification ... due to rising market values and pressure to renovate properties for more affluent in-movers," resulting in "a statistically significant loss of more than 500 low-cost rental units," the study reported.
The State of University City event also marked the release of The State of University City 2018, the district's annual publication that highlights its progress and plans. This year’s publication focused on advancements in areas such as employment, industry, and quality of life, according to an article in Penn Almanac, a record of University news and policy updates.
“UCD is proud to celebrate this milestone, and to pay tribute to the remarkable partnership of institutions, community members and business leaders at the heart of our organization,” Bergheiser, the district president, said in Penn Almanac.
“We have steered UCD toward an operating mantra of changing places and changing lives.”
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