Getting sick of the snow? Try sitting down to your computer, hopping onto Google maps and taking a look at Penn’s campus on street view; it’s summertime and Locust Walk is a tunnel of greenery.
Even on the computer, it’s rather refreshing to see the compass surrounded by trees. As for practical uses, though, the fact that Penn’s campus is now on street view isn’t likely to substantially impact our lives.
It does raise some thoughts about Penn’s physical space, though. Street view is a spatial representation of Penn’s main campus. We’re familiar with Penn as an institution, but how do we define Penn as a physical place?
Let’s try some basic facts. To place Penn in context, the main campus is about 279 acres, and has latitude 39 degrees, 57 minutes and longitude -75 degrees, 11 minutes. We’re only 104 miles from Scranton, Pa., and about 1,489 from Luckenbach, Texas — the self-described “Center of the Universe.” We’re also just 50 miles from being classified as astronauts and 200 miles from the orbit of the International Space Station.
But let’s not focus only on our main campus; that’s rather misleading. Say Penn were to suddenly disappear from the map. What would change?
The 92-acre Morris Arboretum would disappear from Chestnut Hill, the New Bolton Center School of Veterinary Medicine would vanish from Kennett Square, Pa. and Penn Medicine would fade from its many locations. Wharton West would cease to occupy the Folger Building in San Francisco, Calif.
Using numbers from the 2008 fiscal year annual financial report, about $351 million in real estate investments would also vanish, along with $94 million in “natural resources.”
But let’s slow down a minute. When we’re thinking about our impact on physical space, our indirect impact probably matters more than what we own. It takes a whole lot of land to support those of us who use Penn’s main campus.
According to the Ecological Footprint Atlas, it takes about 22.3 acres of space to provide for the consumption of the average person in the United States.
So let’s play with some more numbers. With an undergraduate student body of about 10,337 people, that’s about 230,515.1 acres. If all of that were located on Penn’s central campus, we’d have to kick out the rest of Philadelphia and then some; the City of Philadelphia is 135 square miles in total, while 230,515.1 acres translates to roughly 360 square miles. Penn undergraduates take up more space than twice the City of Philadelphia. Hmm.
How is it possible for us to take up so much space? It has a lot do with how much meat we eat. According to data from the USDA, for each and every person in the United States, there are about 222 animals raised for food each year. Picture this on Google street view: 10,337 undergraduates and the 2,294,814 animals it would take to support them all stuffed onto campus. You’d walk around campus and meet two farm animals in every 10 square feet.
What’s the significance of this large amount of space Penn takes up? When we look at ourselves, we are also looking at fields of grain and concentrated animal feedlot operations in the Midwest, fruit trees in Central America and a stand of evergreens in central Pennsylvania.
This should be both comforting and disturbing; we’re not just an isolated urban campus. Even so, we often think of ourselves in that way. When we make decisions, we should think about the costs and benefits of how our actions impact our greater environment, and not just our immediate surroundings.
When you look at Penn, or look at yourself, there’s a lot you don’t see.
Russell Trimmer is a Wharton sophomore from Lexington, Va. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell-ing the Leaves appears on alternate Fridays.Comments powered by Disqus
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