North Philadelphia is currently witnessing an unprecedented economic boom. Federal funding and private developers are paving the way for an onslaught of housing and retail growth for the rising population. Temple University is a major player in the mix.
Up to 14,000 students are on Temple’s Main campus on any given day – more than 8,000 of those students live either in Temple housing or near the Main campus. Several developers are working on new complexes in the immediate area to provide housing to more of these students.
In early October, The Temple News reported that Tower Investments, headed by Temple alumnus Bart Blatstein, is planning an apartment complex, movie theatre, restaurant and shops at the southwest corner of Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. The center will open in either late fall 2005 or early winter 2006. The $55 million project is the largest private venture in North Philadelphia’s history.
The recently completed Entertainment and Community Education Center at 15th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue is home to the university’s radio station, retail space and Temple’s Partnership Schools Program. Other recently completed projects include University Village, Oxford Arms, the Atlantic Terminal Building and the Kardon Building for student housing.
The University is currently expanding or building its own projects including renovations to the Student Center at Montgomery and 12th streets, the Fox School of Business at Montgomery and 13th streets, additions for the Tyler School of Art at 12th and Norris streets, and restoration to the 1800 block of Liacouras Walk. However, the school has no plans to build student housing, leaving that work to private developers.
Temple President David Adamany said the University does not support any new development around Temple unless the company consults the community.
“Almost all developers want to work with the University and the University insists the developer work with the community,” he said. “Because of this, there is very little community inconvenience.”
“All expansion that has occurred recently has been done without taking anybody’s home,” Adamany continues. “We have tried to expand in land areas without residents, and we’ve consulted residents through meetings to address any of their concerns…We’ve tailored our projects to meet their needs.”
Barbara Cox Easley, a resident near 18th and Diamond streets for 20 years, agrees. She said that when she moved to the neighborhood, she became a “Temple person,” involved with its expansion and community relations.
“Temple has done a variety of good things as far as I’m concerned,” she said, “but there are limitations. The university can’t control student behavior or the parking issue. I’ll say [David] Adamany has put out a hell of an attempt, though.”
Bill Bergman, the vice president of operations at Temple, is in charge of facilities and construction at and around the university. He said Adamany has taken a different approach to Temple’s expansion, noting that the university is encouraging private developers to spend their money around the school.
“I think neighbors, on the whole, have a better relationship with us now than we’ve had in a long time, and I think it’s because we pay attention to their concerns,” he said. Bergman has initiated meetings with members of the Yorktown, Norris Homes, Jefferson Manor and Nelson Brown communities to air out concerns. “I think on the whole they’d give a whole lot of credit to the university,” Bergman said.
Diane L. Gass, a resident of nearby Norris Homes for 36 years and president of the Tenant Council, said the University has done much for her community. In 1995, Temple formally “adopted” Norris Homes and established the Temple Health Connection, setting up computer and tutoring services in its community center. The university continues to maintain that agreement.
“The university was always giving us free basketball and football tickets,” she said, “but I thought they should do more for us since we’re right across the street. I felt they owed us a little something.”
Thomas Anderson, Jr., came to Temple at a turbulent time in North Philadelphia’s history. A native of Camden, N.J., who spent weekends with his uncle at 12th and Norris streets, Anderson was hired to launch and direct Temple’s Office of Community Relations in 1973.
“[The relationship between Temple and the community] started to improve after I came here because there was no community relations office,” said Anderson, who will retire this month. “I was the first and only person Temple had that started community relations…I built it from there.”
During the 1940s, the university’s former President Robert Johnson was quoted as saying Temple’s expansion had become “an absolute necessity,” according to an Oct. 7, 1945 article from The Evening Bulletin.
In 1953, Temple expanded to an area bordered by Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore), Diamond, 12th, and Broad streets. By 1960, Temple was developing more than 40 acres and asking the city for land between 18th and 10th streets.
Over the next decade, Temple requested and received permission from the city to expand into North Philadelphia, displacing thousands of residents and business owners, most of who lived in poverty. Temple was allowed to put its stamp on nearly any block it wanted.
It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the community began to fight back. A March 19, 1967, Evening Bulletin article quoted Sancho Robinson of the Committee on Racial Justice: “For 20 years there has been a rumor that Temple University is going to take over North Philadelphia. East of Broad Street, thousands have been uprooted – what’s going to happen on the west?”
“It wasn’t just a question of Temple,” Bergman explained. “People didn’t trust institutions; they didn’t trust government.”
Meetings began in 1970 to repair community relations. The Temple University Alumni Review of 1970 described “an intensive, confusing, exasperating and exciting negotiation session between University officials, North Philadelphia community groups and authorities from federal, state and city agencies.”
Upon Anderson’s arrival at Temple, part of his new job was to oversee the negotiations.
“My thing was being able to talk to people and represent the university,” Anderson said. “At that time people were angry. They were angry with Temple because they thought the university was buying up property and moving people out.”
Gass said Anderson was the university’s first step in reaching out to her community in a meaningful way. “If it wasn’t for Anderson, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” she said, adding that she has “no concerns about Temple now.”
Several university departments have initiated projects to further strengthen ties with the neighbors.
John DiMino, director of Tuttleman Counseling Services and co-chair of the Civic Responsibility Committee, has created a new community program that symbolizes that desire of the university to reach out more to its neighbors: a garden.
The Sonia Sanchez garden, named in honor of the poet and former Temple alumna is DiMino’s way of bringing together students, faculty and members of the community.
“It really builds confidence when people work together,” DiMino said. “It forms bonds, especially when people are doing physical labor and actually working together.”
While DiMino admits it’s a slow process – only 12 students currently work on the garden with regularity – he hopes it will become an ongoing project with the help of the community and students.
“I think the community appreciates what we’re doing,” he said. “We are an intermediary for the residents and for the university. It takes a slow steady commitment to see that this project gets off the ground.”
Evelyn Boyer, a resident of the 2000 block of Carlisle Street since 1943, first approached Temple with her idea for the garden because she wanted to honor Sanchez’s mural. She said she was appalled to see trash and litter collect at the fence surrounding the mural.
“If you have murals, you should do something nice in front of it,” Boyer said.
In addition to the Sanchez garden, DiMino and Jeremy Frank, another counselor at Tuttleman, also run the Welcome Wagon, a program to assist students who live in the surrounding community. The three-year-old program distributes trashcans, food and cleaning supplies to students who live in the area.
“The idea is to give out gifts and welcome students to the neighborhood,” Frank said. “We want to impress upon them the importance of being a good neighbor.”
Although good behavior isn’t enforced, the Temple Campus Safety Services department does conduct regular sweeps of the neighborhood to foresee any problems before they arise. Captain Eileen Bradley of Safety Services said officers meet with community block captains to follow-up with the university’s programs and said the program has been met with great success in recent years.
President Adamany admits that there are still challenges to the university’s work in the community. Anderson’s successor, who has not yet been named, will have two main issues to focus on, Adamany said.
“There are a great many pro-active programs already underway,” he said, “but we need to continue to build on these. We also need to keep serving the complaints of the neighbors in terms of parking and move-ins at the beginning of every semester. We’ll keep working on those response issues.”
Barbara Isenberg can be reached at Isenberg@temple.edu.