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Planning meeting discusses student engagement

The City Planning Commission is encouraging more Temple engagement.

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission hosted a community planning meeting for the North district on Thursday, which is home to Temple University Hospital and the Health Sciences Campus.

This meeting was the first of three meetings that the city planning commission will hold in the hopes of better involving the community, including Temple students.

The public meeting attracted more than 100 people who live and work in the community.

Ashley Richards of the Philadelphia Planning Commission and Harry Tapia, a controller for the Spanish language community organizing group HACE, hosted the event. It was the first meeting of its kind to use a bilingual presentation.

After the initial presentation on the existing conditions of the district, participants were broken into groups with facilitators to do planning exercises about the district.

To Richards, the idea of finding focus areas was the most important. These are areas where the planning commission can try to create things like transportation hubs.

“These are areas that often have zoning issues,” Richards said. “We ask people, ‘If we had to pick an area to spend public dollars, where could we spend it that would be serving the public best?’”

Many of the attendees said they feel Temple and its students should be more active in the community. TUH is one of the largest employers in this district and the Health Sciences Campus takes up a large portion of the district.

“It’s time for the younger generation to get involved in this community,” said Bernard Williams, a recent graduate of the Philadelphia Citizen Planning Institute, which educates on neighborhood planning. He helps run the consulting firm Making Our Lives Easier. “[Students] live here and they need to know where they’re living at, who the people are.”

Laura Spina, the director of the city planning division, wanted to make it clear that the public meeting is open to anyone living or working in the community, including students who live there.

But it’s not just students that Spina said she hopes could be more involved. She, along with many others at the meeting, said they want to work more with the hospital, especially with the City Planning Commission.

“I think that being a part of events like this would be helpful to them bridge their relationship with the community,” Spina said. “Part of that is that we’re are able to create a neutral ground. That’s a part of our job as the planning commission: to be facilitators in the community.”

“Temple University is one of the largest landowners in this area and they’re expanding,” said George Acevedo, a 1993 civil engineering alumnus who grew up in North Philadelphia. “They need to do more cooperation and outreach and investment in the neighborhoods that are directly around them.”

Acevedo sees a growing problem with the way Temple works in the area around its campus. He said that when Temple got its own police force, it left a high crime rate area right around Temple that Philadelphia Police had to manage. He thinks the university has to remember that there are neighborhoods around them.

“Things have gotten better, but they aren’t constant,” Acevedo said. “Look at what Drexel is doing: they took an underused area at 12th and Wallace [streets]. Drexel University is nowhere near there. They paid millions of dollars to build a health center that provides free health services in that community. Now they’re adding on an addition, because it’s so needed.”

“Temple is a beacon in this community,” said Vincent Rivera, a former professor and architect. “Temple has an opportunity to use the city as a learning laboratory for its students. The university should use the students to do outreach into these communities.”

Jacob Garnjost can be reached at jacob.garnjost@temple.edu.

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