With the closing of Uni-Mart imminent and the opening date of restaurateur Stephen Starr's Pod quickly approaching, the retail strategy of our campus is on a lot of people's minds. While many students are lamenting the loss of a cheap, conveniently placed store and focusing on the possibility of unfulfilled late-night snack cravings, the administration has been concentrating on a more basic student need: our safety. Whether you realize it or not, the most significant catalyst behind the recent retail developments was a serious crime wave that gripped the University in the fall of '96. Students were terrified; their tensions and fears reached a climax when College senior Patrick Leroy was shot in the back on his way home from Smoke's. Even our out-of-touch administrators realized something had to be done, and that short-term security measures would not be enough. They emerged with a plan to use economic and retail development to combat a problem that plagues many urban campuses: while streets are filled from 9 to 5 with students and staff, at night they become rather bleak. And sitting here four years later, we can see that this strategy has worked and that campus safety will only continue to improve as the newest additions to 40th Street open their doors. But at what cost have we achieved this new level of comfort? In the process of making our campus less vulnerable to the criminal element, Penn has replaced the low end with the high end, the inexpensive with the costly. One must wonder if the University equates crime fighting with ridding our campus of any vendor that might attract any local residents. Are Sundance and FreshGrocer.com simply the first bricks in the retail wall intended to protect us from our more disadvantaged neighbors? Has the University focused so acutely on the issue of safety that it lost sight of the fact that Penn is part of a larger community? With these concerns in mind, I met with our top real estate official, Tom Lussenhop. After spending a couple of hours discussing the delicate balance between economic vitality and economic diversity, I felt assured that the new additions to our campus do not necessarily spell doom for our relationship with West Philly, and could even help the local economy. But still, there are many obstacles that could stand to impede progress. Penn will face a tough fiscal dilemma in the coming years. As Sundance and Co. arrive on the western edge of campus, property values in the surrounding area will increase substantially. Penn must decide whether to take advantage of the increased prosperity or forgo some profit in order to allow longstanding tenants to maintain their businesses in the face of rising property values. Penn should realize the value of these businesses and support them as it has the local public schools, because even though it may tighten our budget today, these investments will pay off in the long run. This is especially pertinent to the area on 40th Street between Walnut and Market streets. While this strip is currently void of Penn's touch and dominated by local enterprises, it stands to gain from its new commercial neighbors. Penn could choose to either pursue a developmental plan that maintains and supports those existing stores -- and add attractions that will pull students to an area usually passed only on the way to the subway station -- or simply push the old tenants out and build another Sansom Common-style mini-mall. I say down with mini-malls. We as students should also do our part to foster better relations with a community that views us as unwelcome nuisances. With many of our safety concerns alleviated, we can begin to take greater advantage of all that West Philly has to offer. Students complain about not having cheap affordable places to catch dinner when there are three Ethiopian restaurants in West Philly where you can experience unique cuisine at the price of another boring Whopper value meal. Students complain of having no place to buy music, but Spruce Street CDs is a great store where the owner works the register and sacrifices profit to offer prices that are competitive with online vendors. Yet few people frequent it. Patronizing these shops will ensure that affordable options, like Uni-Mart, continue to exist for those frugal among us, in spite of the University's real estate moves.Comments powered by Disqus
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