This week, Locust Walk flooded. And last month, the Undergraduate Assembly tried to prevent flooding, passing a proposal that urged Penn to install "new drainage."
Sure, flooding hampers many, but it's not Penn's biggest design issue. That the UA advocated only for "drainage" once again revealed its fear of tackling a big project. And yes - it's a fear, not an inability, for the UA can do great things when it tries.
In 1985 and 1995, the UA presented plans that detailed how the University should look by 1990 and 2000, respectively. Penn adopted much of the plans, creating the College House system, instituting Dining Dollars, allowing students to minor and establishing new police patrols, for example.
In light of that, I challenge today's UA to make itself relevant and redesign our campus. A new UA master plan could influence Penn to a greater degree than any previous report. Because in January, the University will take over the much-discussed postal lands east of campus. And because Penn now has more money and local respect than it did at any point before.
Today's UA wouldn't have to concoct new ideas since so many terrific ideas from previous Penn reports were never enacted. If the UA were to compile those, it would create a stunningly coherent document for Penn's future - one that could refine the expansion plan approved by trustees has had June.
For instance, the trustee plan would remove the tennis courts in front of the Palestra. The UA could specify a replacement by citing Penn's 2001 Campus Development study, which detailed a "Palestra Park" - a lovely landscaped square that would welcome fans to the country's most storied collegiate arena.
That's a small example, but Penn's past contains a hundred more design ideas, a hundred more conceptual strands, all waiting to be weaved together. In the following 300 words, I'll discuss a few, with the sincere hope that the UA picks up where I leave off.
Penn has two major arteries. One is Woodland Walk, which Penn wants to develop into a secondary Locust. To do this, it has anchored Woodland with the new Platt Student Performing Arts House and the Class of 1956 Trolley at 37th and Spruce streets.
Penn has also decided to build a dorm on Hill Field that would face Woodland. The UA must dictate the type of dorm Penn builds, for its aesthetic will migrate to the new buildings and shops that pop up around Woodland in coming years.
The UA should look into the townhouse dorms that Penn considered building on Locust in 1991. They would be three to four stories, resemble the Locust frat houses and would function as self-contained communities.
This setup would facilitate Penn's new plan to group future freshmen in small communities known as "clusters." And, fittingly, all new Woodland construction would maintain that charming Locust look.
As for Locust, the UA must undo all the damage done by the 1991 Committee to Diversify Locust Walk. That committee decided "to spread the intensity of use in the center of the campus off of Locust." The committee also suggested that campus life would eventually migrate northward, with Sansom Street becoming a new Locust. Obviously, that didn't happen, and Penn has spent the last 15 years developing random bits of land without paying attention to its real hub.
As a result, Locust has lost its places for students and professors to eat and chat. To rectify that, the UA should examine a '91 design study for a coffeehouse on the ground floor of Logan Hall that would spill out onto College Green. It's a great inspiration for what Penn could do, especially with the new eastern section of Locust.
Finally, the UA should revive its 1985 design for a student center, which was to contain a 24-hour study lounge, a restaurant, a game room, a black-box theater (with rehearsal space) and an art gallery.
Penn actually approved the plan in 1989 and raised $10 million toward its $60 million cost. But in 1995, then-President Judy Rodin secretly nixed the center in favor of Perelman Quadrangle, a $90 million renovation of Irvine Auditorium and Williams, Logan, College and Houston halls.
That underhanded move put a big chill on the UA's planning since news of the change leaked in the same week that the UA released details of the planned student center. But more than a decade later, it's time for the UA to return to the drawing board.
Gabe Oppenheim is a College sophomore from Scarsdale, N.Y. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Opp-Ed appears on Wednesdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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