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Philadelphia skyline from the High Rises

Nursing senior Julia Moon often bikes home after class like many other undergraduates. But while most students head west to their dorms or apartments, Moon bikes east. She lives in a Center City townhouse on 26th and South streets.

Her nursing classes are only a seven-minute walk or a three-minute bike ride from her house. Despite the proximity, Moon said she doesn’t know of any other undergraduates living in Center City.

“For a lot of undergrads, the bridges seem very daunting,” Moon said. But after having lived in the Quadrangle, Rodin and finally an apartment on 42nd Street between Pine Street and Baltimore Avenue with a landlord who wasn’t concerned with upkeep, Moon was ready for a change and ventured even further off campus.

When she first moved, the South Street bridge was still closed, but Moon said she was able to find a “bigger place for cheaper” and “somewhere that was actually a little nicer” than many places in West Philadelphia.

Moon was also attracted to the difference in demographics. Center City’s residents include a lot of graduate students, young professionals and families, as opposed to the student-centric neighborhoods surrounding campus.

“A lot of my social life is in Center City,” she said. “I’ve definitely had a lot more opportunity to eat, to go to new restaurants, like little hole-in-the-wall places with great food.”

Moon is one of more than 4,000 undergraduates living off campus each year. The majority of undergraduates live in either college houses or Greek houses, according to the Off-Campus Services Housing Guide.

College senior Ariel Herman also moved off campus after her sophomore year, though she moved further into West Philadelphia. Herman now lives in a converted townhouse apartment on 45th and Pine streets because it’s surrounded by a “cheap, quiet neighborhood full of families and a community of people you can actually know instead of a bunch of random loud Penn students,” she said.

Like Moon, Herman said she is paying less than most students living on or closer to campus, but she has a lot of space in her apartment. Her commute is around five to eight minutes on her bike. “I’m not sure why more people don’t choose to live out here,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to go home to somewhere that is far away from the hubbub.”

Herman now works for the Free Library of Philadelphia on 40th and Walnut streets, where she met several West Philadelphia residents who send their kids to the Penn Alexander School, go to the farmers’ market regularly or go to bars in the area.

“You start to see the same people, she said. “It’s better because you meet a lot of people who don’t go to Penn, people who cast a wide net.”

Living off campus, Herman said, is more of an independent lifestyle. “I go to school to Penn. I don’t need to be reminded constantly that I’m in college. That’s one of the benefits of the city that we can expand.”

Housing on campus is not guaranteed for undergraduates, although Penn doesn’t usually have a problem “accommodating the students who want to live on campus” provided they’re somewhat flexible, according to a statement from Business Services spokeswoman Barbara Lea-Kruger.

For students who do want to venture off campus, Penn’s Office of Off-Campus Services offers assistance, including information about tenant rights and responsibilities, residence in the community, leases and possible problems.

In addition to the independent lifestyle they’re choosing, these students may actually benefit the neighborhoods surrounding Penn, according to Penn’s Office of Government and Community Affairs Director Dawn Deitch.

“Living in a neighborhood [off campus] brings the advantage of a lot of diversity and interesting people,” Deitch said. “There is also a natural benefit for [local] business owners, landlords, libraries and the other people who make up a community beside residents.”

Deitch said she doesn’t often see “problems with persistent, ongoing conflicts among students and long-term residents.” In the minor conflicts that do arise, Deitch said, the University administration aims to resolve issues.

Penn students living in the area do “certainly change the dynamic of a neighborhood because you have the ebb and flow of students coming in and leaving,” 25-year West Philadelphia resident and 27th Ward Democratic leader Carol Jenkins said. However, she said some Penn students can “be little bit inconsiderate of the fact that they live in a neighborhood.”

Penn students living in other neighborhoods, particularly in West Philadelphia, “without a doubt” provide an economic benefit for local businesses, possibly because they have more disposable wealth “than a normal college student would,” Jenkins said.

But sometimes, “the attitude that some Penn students have that this is like living in a combat zone can be pretty aggravating” to residents, she said. According to Jenkins, there’s a huge difference between the more cosmopolitan Penn graduates living in West Philadelphia and undergraduates, many of whom seem “entitled.”

This attitude may be reinforced by the University, Jenkins said. “Keeping Penn students within the bubble of Penn is partly because it’s encouraged by the University, and then [the idea] reinforces itself.”

Jenkins said she has talked to undergraduates who, in four years, have never been west of 40th Street and in some cases have never crossed the Schuylkill River. “That’s really unfortunate because they’re losing any ability to see the world,” she said.

If students were willing to explore the city a little more and leave their “entitlement” behind, “there might not be so much tension between the neighborhood people and Penn students,” Jenkins said. She added that this doesn’t apply to all Penn students and that a lot of the University-sponsored community programs are beneficial. “We can give them a star for actually trying,” she said.

According to Jenkins, in addition to the parties and trash, one of the biggest downsides to students living in West Philadelphia is the “West Philly Shuffle,” a time when students move out of their houses and apartments once the school year ends.

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