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First impressions are everything.

And the crumbly, paint-chipped, 15-year-old signs that once stood above Spruce, Walnut and Chestnut streets were not very impressive.

The signs, looming over a few of the main gateways to Penn's campus and University City, were an unattractive welcome for freshmen coming to the University for the first time.

But Penn's brand-new, "better-than-ever" freshman class, as the administration calls its new students, were greeted to campus brand-new and much better signs.

New "Welcome to University City" signs accompanied by Penn's spruced-up logo now adorn the rail bridges that stand at the three original locations.

A new sign location was even added to University Avenue.

"It was time to refresh the paint and update the design, particularly in concert with us expanding into the postal lands," said Mark Kocent, principal planner at the University Architect's Office.

But the new signs aren't there just to beautify the campus - they are partly the product of a continuous, concerted effort of Penn officials to connect the campus to the neighborhood it calls home.

The signs are part of a project to "brand University City as a place people want to be" and a place "synonymous with clean and safe," said Andrew Zitcer, a spokesman for Facilities and Real Estate Services.

"Putting up the new signs indicates [the University's] pride in our neighborhood," he said.

Professor of Urban Design and City Planning Michael Larice said branding University City and Penn's campus using signs works to both mark territorial boundaries and influence people's perception of the area.

Repainting these signs is "showing University City to be a better maintained and new place," he said. "Why do you think we paint our houses every few years?"

There could be a downside to this type of paint job, however. Over the last few years, some West Philadelphians have expressed reservations over Penn's desire to associate itself with University City instead of the less-glamorous area to the west, and the new signs do nothing to combat that perception.

But Zitcer says that shouldn't be an issue.

"We're not trying to get into a debate about boundaries," he said. "We are not trying to isolate University City from West Philadelphia. University City is a neighborhood of West Philadelphia; it is a part of West Philadelphia.

For her part, Vice President of Public Safety Maureen Rush said the branding effort has an positive effect on crime, as well; she believes the repainted signs let potential criminals know they are entering a protected neighborhood.

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