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Historically, students in West Philadelphia have been warned not to walk west of 40th Street. But in recent years, people are hearing this less frequently, and heeding it almost never, perhaps due in part to the work of one umbrella organization in the neighborhood -- the University City District. Although University City was chartered in 1959 and is therefore more than 40 years old, the UCD -- a not-for-profit organization that makes community improvements and supports local businesses -- turned five just this August. The UCD was founded in 1997 in order to address crime and neighborhood issues in the University City portion of West Philadelphia -- its boundaries run approximately from the Schuylkill River to 50th Street and from Spring Garden Street to Woodland Avenue. Though initiatives previously existed to help improve the area, many felt that they were not effective. While crime in some areas of Philadelphia fell, the statistics for University City were still too high for comfort. UCD Spokeswoman Alison Kelsey explained that the district started off in a tiny room in the Franklin Building, connected to then-Executive Vice President and former UCD Board Chairman John Fry's office. At that point, neighborhood members and University officials felt there was a need for a district-wide organization to be established in order to raise funds to clean the area up and create a safer environment. This feeling was heightened in 1996, during which the University community saw a wave of violent crimes, Kelsey explained. "Institutions in the neighborhood felt that students [were] not so interested, and faculty [were] not so interested, and we [were] losing people," Kelsey said of the atmosphere during that time. Since the UCD set out to change that in 1997, it has seen a number of homes -- from its Franklin Building office where it was nestled between rolls of toilet paper and brooms to other borrowed space and finally, to its current location at 3940 Chestnut Street. Eric Goldstein, who took over the UCD's helm as executive director in 2001, has been involved with the organization since a few months after its inception and has seen it grow into what it is today. "I guess, in a nutshell, we stood up originally five years ago to help reduce crime and to help clean up what was then a serious cleanliness issue, and in five years, crime has fallen in University City more than 20 percent, and so clearly our strategy is working -- and that's not just UCD, that's all of the groups that make up UCD," Goldstein explained. Still, the organization does face its share of challenges. It is funded entirely by voluntary contributions, rather than by mandatory taxation, and not all local businesses are anxious to contribute money. According to Goldstein, the difference the UCD has made in the area is not just due to the specific programs implemented by the UCD, which include UCD Safety Ambassadors, who patrol the neighborhood in order to suppress crime, and a cleaning staff that works to clean up the streets of University City. "More importantly, what has changed is, I guess, what I would refer to as investor confidence," Goldstein said. "Not the way you would think of investors in a purely financial sense -- it could be a student who comes to University City because they feel safe and good about living there, which they wouldn't have seven years ago, or a homeowner who seven years ago wasn't investing in their home because it would have been impossible for them to recoup their value who is now investing in their house --confidence in neighborhood, confidence that it's moving in the right direction." Certainly Betty Reavis, the president of the Walnut Hill Community Association, would agree. "I know they are very active in this neighborhood, and we are very pleased with them here." Though Reavis can only vouch for what has been done in a particular area and still feels that there is much work to be done, particularly dealing with drug issues in the neighborhood, she has seen some improvements. "I see the cleaning staff going by and the ambassadors, and we are very happy with their work." Though there is still substantial progress to be made, Goldstein believes the UCD's work is at least part of the reason why 43rd Street doesn't sound as scary as it used to.

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