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(en) US, Philadelphia, defenestrator* #31 - GENTRIFICATION WATCH - University City: A Real Estate Invention and Herald of Bad Times for Many Residents - By Richard Rodgers

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 23 Dec 2004 11:42:54 +0100 (CET)

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If you were a resident of any section
of Philadelphia in the 1950s and were
asked where, or what University City
was, your response would have been
the same as if you had been asked,
"Where is the planet Xenon?"
University City did not exist and the
area blithely labeled so was then sim-
ply referred to as West Philadelphia.
The University of Pennsylvania initiat-
ed its plans for land expansion in West
Philadelphia in 1946. It submitted a
proposal to city authorities which
entailed great forays into real estate
surrounding the University which were
privately owned residences and businesses.

Displacement of the local population,
mostly black households, was accepted
as a self-evident fact of life by the
Penn administration and the city gov-
ernment. National plans for urban
renewal (Negro Removable), to a great
extent federally funded, were delayed
due to the outbreak of the Korean
War as well as the fear of urban riots.
The pivotal change in the urban
renewal perspective came about in
1952 - 1953 when the Eisenhower
administration decided that 10% of
the program funds were to be used
for commercial development.
Previously, all urban renewal projects
were exclusively residential projects.
In 1959, the University of Chicago, on
the strength of its political clout with
the Democratic party, convinced the
Eisenhower administration to allow
new university contracts to be covered
by the third of the urban renewal
funds which were contributed by the
city. Penn was duly impressed. In
1958 the Philadelphia Development
Corporation, a quasi-governmental
organization, sprang to life (Penn has
always had someone on its board of
directors). It was also in 1958 that the
executive officer of the firm that
would later become Urban & Bye
began designation of the area sur-
rounding Penn as University City.
This entrepreneurial ploy to give an ai
of refinement to what was considered
by many outsiders as a depressed area
and to inflate financial value of neigh-
borhood real estate did not totally
escape the notice of the black com-

Before Locust Street (a public thor-
oughfare) became Locust Walk (a
property of the university) communi-
ty, opposition to neighborhood dis-
placement exploded when Penn
announced the construction of a sci-
ence center, which mandated the
destr uction of 429 homes, 333 of
which were minority owned.

Notwithstanding claims of innocence
based on philanthropic intention the
university elicited 12 million dollars
from HUD and persuaded the city
government to employ eminent
domain to forcibly evict 429 houses
from an area whose boundaries were
roughly Warren Street, 33rd Street,
Locust Street and 40th Street.

The Science Center, for whose sake so
much misery and social havoc mani-
fested itself, turned out not to be the
unqualified economic stimulus to the
city its backers asserted in the early
60s. By the 1980s, 22 of its research
and science firms had relocated to the
suburbs. The resounding flop which
the new Port of Technolog y (Penn's
BABY) seems to be is another story
for which we have neither the time
nor the space.
* [Ed. note: The defenestrator is of an
Anarchist/antiauthoritarian perspective]

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