If the retail in this area were reflective of historically established West Philadelphia culture, 40th Street would likely not be cluttered with such oddities as Radio Shack and F.W.O.T., institutions which are probably not the best choices for the consumer population in our neighborhood. And although UniMart and Smokey Joe's are both campus staples, they are not indicative of what West Philadelphia really should be: a locus of academia, art and culture reflective of a once-bohemian, progressive area which grew with the evolution of jazz and diversity. Local retail should reflect the area's multicultural population and notable history. International craft galleries might thrive here, as would art galleries featuring contributions from promising West Philadelphia and student artists. Sansom Common has been built as a haven for upper-middle class consumers interested in Arctic mocha drinks and pricey sporting goods. But Xando, City Sports, Urban Outfitters and Parfumerie Douglas are not exactly screaming "culture." However, it is no secret that the University focuses on the bottom line, and understandably so. For a project like this to materialize, the administration needs raw numbers relating to both cost and student interest, which is clearly going to take a while to compute. But it is still a safe assumption that a jazz club would bring a new wave of revitalization over this area, a feat which Video Library and Boccie cannot accomplish alone. And 4040 Locust Street could not be a more ideal location to suit the needs of everyone. Visions for a cultural retail area would likely result in a strengthened University-community relationship. With a little help from the University's real estate management team, this image can happen on or near 40th Street, where the boundary between Penn and West Philly becomes one and the same, an extraordinary area where the University and community gel. It is necessary also to examine the University's relationship with its surrounding community, one that has long been plagued by mistrust and minimal consultation. In fact, Penn has had a rather tumultuous relationship with the surrounding area this year. Our administration made decisions on the Sansom Common front without adequately consulting community leaders, and to the surprise of few, community members blasted the University for its tyrannical approach to building the new retail hub. Add to that the University's rocky relationship with area merchants, which became very contentious after the retailers at 38th and Walnut streets in University Plaza were displaced for a new Wharton facility. The owners of University Jewelers fought hard for a suitable relocation site with an affordable rent, but the University perhaps took too long to settle that issue, leading many to believe that Penn has little regard for its long-time independent merchants (who are, incidentally, often praised by students for giving the area its unique flavor). But the University has certainly made some moves in the right direction, too. It spearheaded the development of the University City District, which works in conjunction with the community to make the surrounding area a safer and cleaner place to live. And in the retail department, administrators in Executive Vice President John Fry's office are in the process of securing the artsy Sundance Cinemas for 40th Street. Those decisions were two very smart moves which work in bettering town-gown relations and making the 40th Street area more attractive and cultural. On campus, we already boast the Annenberg Center, the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Kelly Writers House, three institutions which give the University more of a polished, cultural flair. Still, take a minute and imagine the inconceivable: walking down 40th Street and seeing community faces which are suddenly familiar. Picture a scenario in which some sort of effective retail drew Penn students beyond the safe walls of Superblock and into an environment where they could socialize with the people who call West Philly their home. Administrators need to work on providing this area with retail options which are attractive to both students and community members, and are universal in their appeal. Beginning with the themes of musical performance, community-student togetherness and appreciation of a deep-rooted jazz culture would only be a step in the right direction.Comments powered by Disqus
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