In what many members of the West Philadelphia community view as a complete turnaround, when students returned to campus earlier this week, they were greeted by an array of new shops, restaurants and residences, as well as an outpouring of excitement along 40th Street.
In contrast to the 40th Street of five years ago, Penn's western boundary is no longer seen as a dangerous area to avoid. As the product of a series of efforts from a consortium of neighborhood groups including the Knowledge Industry Partnership, the 40th Street Area Business Association and most recently, the Friends of 40th Street, the 40th Street corridor has emerged as a revitalized cosmopolitan center of activity.
Friends of 40th Street, a new nonprofit local advocacy group which synthesizes and represents the interests of a diverse cross-section of the University City community, was founded in May. The group's principal goal is to provide a forum in which all of the area's stakeholders can voice their hopes with regard to the future commercial and economic development of the neighborhood.
"The group's overriding goal is to represent the interests of residents, merchants, students and any other party which is involved in improving the quality of life along 40th Street," says Harris Steinberg, executive director of Penn Praxis -- the consulting practice of the School of Design -- and temporary leader of the group.
Once it has achieved consensus on the community's collective interests, Friends of 40th Street will serve primarily as an advocacy group to lobby for local interests in any upcoming development project.
"We are representing the different constituencies who care about 40th Street so that once a development project is proposed, we can be actively involved in ensuring that the wishes of, not just the economic developers, but of the actual community itself, are carried out," says Jim Lilly, treasurer of the Spruce Hill Community Association, owner of Metropolitan Bakery and a member of Friends of 40th Street.
However, in addition to its larger goal, the group has outlined a list of six more specific objectives. The objectives seek to advocate for the expansion of the area's commercial services, to physically beautify the corridor and to foster interaction between the various racial, cultural and socioeconomic groups that occupy the neighborhood.
To this end, the group has established four task forces which will work to promote the opening of the public library at 40th and Walnut streets this fall, reduce the crime at the corner of 40th and Market streets and attempt to lure artistic and cultural activities to University City.
Although the group's goals overlap considerably with those of other community groups, Friends of 40th Street prides itself in that, in contrast to most other organizations which tend to be unilateral in nature, it truly represents all of the parties that are invested in the area's development.
"We have such a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives, which really allows us to ensure that everyone will be happy with respect to the development of 40th Street," says Lucy Kerman, special projects coordinator of Penn's Office of the President. "The University is really trying to work closely with area residents to cater to everyone's needs."
However, despite the group's professed goal of comprehensive community involvement, given Penn's history of sometimes rancorous relations with area residents, many members of Friends of 40th Street remain skeptical regarding both the University's participation in the group and its willingness to cooperate with other stakeholders.
"There are definitely some people who are just dead-set against Penn's involvement in the group, who are completely convinced that Penn has a hidden personal agenda which it will implement with or without the community's input," Lilly says.
Lilly also noted that regarding the development of the 40th Street corridor, Friends of 40th Street has provided one of the most democratic forums -- a series of public town meetings -- since the beginning of the effort to revitalize the area.
"I think the [group's] meetings have been the most inclusive and productive I've seen," Lilly says. "Friends of 40th Street is a strong enough group with enough clout that I think whoever does the development, whether it be Penn or someone else, definitely would be foolish not to take the community's wants into consideration, which will ultimately help to ensure that those wants are recognized."Comments powered by Disqus
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