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It's the equivalent of winning the Oscar for Best Picture -- except the criteria is land use, and audiences outside of the real estate development field may be harder to impress.

Along with nine other winners, Penn received the Urban Land Institute's Award for Excellence earlier this month in recognition of the West Philadelphia Initiative.

"Widely recognized as the land use industry's most prestigious recognition program," the award -- given to international projects ranging from condominium development to land use in an area with 300-year-old Buddhist temples -- commends accomplishments in areas such as design, construction and finance, according to the ULI Web site.

Penn was the only university recognized in the awards.

"The West Philadelphia Initiative was selected... as a remarkable demonstration of leadership by the University," Awards for Excellence Jury Chairman Wayne Ratkovich said.

Penn has done a "remarkable job of reaching out into the community, making the neighborhoods safer," Ratkovich said, noting that ULI members looked at retail development around campus as well as the Penn-assisted school in making their decision.

Considering the award a nod to a job well done, University officials were excited that Penn accomplishments measured up to the other recognized projects.

"What was impressive was to hear all these... projects from around the world -- Tokyo, China, the Philippines -- and then there was West Philadelphia," said Lucy Kerman, a special projects coordinator in the President's Office.

"The competition and the other winners were substantial," Kerman said. "I was really proud that ours was seen as an important effort."

Also highlighting the significance of the award, Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services Omar Blaik said the honor recognizes the University's commitment to economic and community development.

"We think it's extremely significant," Blaik said. The award is "really the stamp of approval that you have been able to create an urban environment that is vibrant and alive and well."

The wide scope of recognized projects is intentional, according to Ratkovich.

"The basic mission of the Urban Land Institute, if you boil it down, is to provide leadership in the use of land," he said, noting that 40 percent of the winning projects originated from outside the United States.

"There are lots of architecture awards that are given out," he said. "But the Urban Land Institute is the only group that really recognizes the full scope of real estate projects."

The West Philadelphia Initiative will continue to be this type of full-scope effort, according to University officials.

"The whole vision of West Philadelphia was part of what the award was about," Kerman said.

"The University is very focused on its ongoing commitment," she added. "In that sense, [the award] just charged us up."

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