Community concerns have prompted many attempts to improve relations and the area.
As students increasingly pursue a more traditional college experience, Main Campus finds itself in the middle of accommodating an expanding university’s needs while maintaining a cordial relationship with those who call North Philadelphia home.
The university estimates that the number of students living on or near Main Campus has tripled since 2002. Approximately 4,500 students currently live in university-owned housing on Main Campus, and another estimated 7,000 live near Main Campus.
For some community members, it’s an old story: Seeking an education in an urban environment, suburban students flocked to Main Campus. When campus housing couldn’t accommodate the influx of students, developers pounced on the opportunity to offer housing in the residential area surrounding campus.
“The money came first. And then they came in, in a wave,” one resident said at a recent community meeting.
But it’s the ripple effects – trash, noise and substance abuse, among others – that have prompted several efforts to take a serious look this year at what needs to be done to ease tensions and promote a more positive relationship between long-time residents and students.
From a proposal to ban off-campus student housing to a university task force, the subject of tense student-community relations has become a catalyst for change.
By title alone, the Office of Community Relations would seem like the most vital link to improving Temple’s changing student-community relationship. The three-person staffed office is charged with serving as a liaison between Temple and its community.
While the office links nonprofits to one another and to university resources and student volunteers, it shares the responsibilities of handling community concerns and complaints with other areas of the university.
In cases of handling quality-of-life issues or friction between residents and students, Campus Safety Services takes the initiative, Beverly Coleman, assistant vice president for community relations and economic development, said.
“Campus Safety really takes the lead in terms of that, that’s their expertise, dealing with situations involving students and neighbors,” Coleman said.
CSS Captain of Special Services Eileen Bradley said handling community relations comes with the territory – even when complaints that normally would be handled by the city come across her desk.
A once-retired officer, Bradley has been with Temple for nearly 40 years, which has allowed her to develop ties with community members. Her storied career includes anecdotes of bringing residents and students together for block meetings or dinners at the Draught Horse, all in the name of building positive relationships.
“A very, very small percent of students actually cause problems in the neighborhood,” Bradley, a part-time officer, said. “Once I visit the house and explain to them that some of these people have been here for years, they’ve been here for 30 years…[I] never hear from the students again.”
Bradley said students who fail to comply after university warnings may be brought before the university disciplinary committee under the Good Neighbor Policy.
“I consider us more than a police department. I think we have a partnership and we have an obligation to this community to try, in fact, to make it better,” she said.
Bradley said her ultimate goal is to educate students before they move into the neighborhood, through talking to students in residence halls before they sign off-campus leases and by hosting the annual Welcome Wagon, an event aimed at building community relationships at the beginning of each year.
Temple and its offices aren’t alone in trying to build a more positive relationship.
Resident Edwina Rucker said she tries to establish relationships with student neighbors by acquainting them with her block, although sometimes to no avail. She added that doing so is an ongoing process.
“Every time there’s a rollover of students, we have to implement that every time,” Rucker said.
The Office of Community Relations doesn’t hold scheduled, open meetings for community members to voice concerns, but employees said that they’re ready to listen when residents call or visit the office. It does meet twice a semester with its Community Campus Council, which includes community representatives, employees said.
Not long after City Council President Darrell Clarke proposed legislation in September 2011 that would have banned student housing in the area, President Ann Weaver Hart called for a task force to address community issues and concerns.
Chaired by Dean of Students Stephanie Ives, the Community and Student Issues and Concerns Task Force was a team assembled to gauge student and community issues and develop recommendations to better approach them.
Ives said she was unsure if the task force was in response to the housing-ban bill. Although the task force worked on a short timeline, presenting its final report to Hart in January, the findings have yet to be released.
The report won’t be made public until a new president assumes Hart’s position and is given time to review and move forth with its recommendations, Ives said.
“I think it’s only appropriate to allow a new president to take a look at the report and to hear from the task force about our work,” Ives said.
Ideas stemming from the task force report include paid student block captains and an off-campus housing log. Ives said Temple is not mandated by law to implement a housing registry, but that students would be encouraged to volunteer the information.
“You move frequently…so we just don’t have an idea of where you live,” Ives said. “And it’s not only for the behaviors off campus it’s for emergencies…[and] it’s for planning. How will we know what kind of retail restaurants and other amenities students may need and want based on population density if we don’t know that you’re here?”
The task force included one community member and one landlord – local developer Herb Reid, who is also a prominent advocate of Clarke’s neighborhood improvement district.
After Clarke introduced the legislation to ban student housing, which he didn’t follow through with, he introduced plans for a special services district, now known as the North Central Neighborhood Improvement District.
The proposal follows in the footsteps of a similar improvement district in Chinatown that fell short. But advocates for the NCNID maintain that the district will succeed because it doesn’t tax family homeowners – who therefore can’t vote for or against the district – but will still benefit them.
Without being able to vote for or against the district, some longtime residents have claimed power is being handed off to out-of-town developers. Others contend that the improvements outlined by the district are a longtime coming.
Although Temple officials are quick to note that misbehaving students referenced in the media are a minority, others seem more adamant that their overall presence has brought its fair share of problems in the neighborhood.
“[I told landlords,] I’m getting a whole lot of heat from residents in these blocks, because these kids are out of control,” Clarke said at an April 19 community meeting. “The people that live here, have lived here all their lives…should not have to pay for [the district,] they didn’t create the problem, they shouldn’t have to pay for the problem.”
As NCNID and task force plans pend approval from their respective decision makers, most neighbors seem accepting of Bradley’s notion of learning to respectfully co-exist.
Marie James of the 1500 block of Page Street, who has lived in the area for more than 60 years, said her street once consisted primarily of permanent residents. Now, she shares the street with transient students – and she said it’s all about doing just that.
“They’re here. We got to live together,” James said. “That’s it.”
Angelo Fichera and Valerie Rubinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.