Back in February I attended the meeting with President Theobald and countless other students on the status of a potential on-campus stadium. Of course, with something as momentous as a stadium here on Temple’s dense urban campus, feelings of excitement, confusion, indifference and anger come to the forefront. I personally am indifferent to a stadium, but I can see the possible benefits that it could bring to the campus and possibly Philadelphia outside of hosting football games—graduations, concerts, fairs, the list goes on.
Other people, however, do not see any benefits to the proposed stadium. In fact, many community members see a stadium as yet another opportunity for Temple to infringe more than it already does on the surrounding community, whose concerns with student renters go largely ignored. There are constant complaints of noise, trash and event acts of overt racism that are inflicted by students onto the community. This is compounded by the already volatile relationship Temple has with its neighbors since its expansion in the ‘60s that has led to hundreds of local residents being displaced.
Concerns of displacement are valid. Concerns of noise, trash, traffic congestion and general chaos following football games are valid. This is why the university has recently spent $1 million to do an impact study for the proposed stadium. But I’m not entirely convinced that a stadium is going to be a catalyst of gentrification, or even exacerbate it because it has been happening for the past decade, and will likely continue with or without a stadium.
At the meeting with president Theobald, protesters chanted with ire, “Where’s the community? Gentrification is Temple-made!” Yes, gentrification is Temple-made, as many universities sit on parcels of land in nearby communities and sell them to developers for them to be turned into lodging for students. But that’s just it—gentrification in Temple’s neighboring communities is fueled by student renters, yet somehow students were reluctant to acknowledge this at the meeting. Developers are responding to the demand for housing driven by students. I presume that many students who attended the meeting reside off campus. Shouldn’t they essentially be protesting themselves?
I’m not suggesting that students and local residents shouldn’t come together and work towards a common goal, nor am I suggesting that student renters cannot and do not have an invested stake in the community. However, I wish that students could be cognizant of the fact that gentrification doesn’t happen outside of their existence in the community, but it happens because they exist in the community. Both Temple’s administration and its students are agents of displacement in North Philadelphia, so to deny being a beneficiary to these oppressive market forces at one’s own convenience is disingenuous at best, and the biggest manifestation of (white) liberal guilt at worst.
Standing in solidarity with the community is one thing. Blatant disregard of one’s own positionality is another. So, as the conversation continues about the proposed stadium and gentrification, let’s please remember where we all stand in relation to our neighbors, development, and, though we may not want to admit it, displacement.
Stweart Scott is a 2015 georaphy and urban studies alumn. He is now pursuing a Geographic Informations Systems cirtificate and can be reached at stweart.scott@temple.