In new construction, preserve North Philadelphia

Lately I’ve been waking up to the sound of Peabody Hall’s remains being torn up and bulldozed. And on my way to class, I change my route to avoid congested spaces corralled by temporary construction fences. There are people in hardhats and yellow reflective vests everywhere I go.

The construction zones that consume much of Main Campus signal that the university is trying to expand and improve. Dozie Ibeh, the associate vice president of Temple’s Project Delivery Group, told The Temple News that there were 107 construction projects on campus at the beginning of the school year.

Modernization of our facilities is not necessarily a bad thing, but I think the rapid redevelopment of Main Campus takes away from the architectural character of North Philadelphia.

In recent years, Temple’s construction has been centered around a modern architectural style. Buildings like Morgan Hall and the Science and Education Research Center, which were unveiled in 2013 and 2014, are made primarily of glass, as opposed to traditional materials like brick, stone and wood.

These architectural changes alter the dynamics of our campus and, more importantly, North Philadelphia as a whole. Being located in a city not only means Temple has limited space, but also that it must share that space.

Temple should be modernizing in moderation — the brand-new architecture poses a stark contrast to historic North Philadelphia row homes that previously dominated this neighborhood. I’m concerned that the new, sleek style sends an unwelcoming message to long-time community residents.

At 27 stories high, Morgan Hall not only towers above Main Campus, but also the surrounding community. It is even marked with a large Temple “T,” branding the neighborhood as belonging to the university.

In April 2017, a proposed skywalk to connect Alter Hall with 1810 Liacouras Walk was denied by Philadelphia’s Architectural Committee.

One of Philadelphia’s historic preservation planners Randal Baron recommended the committee vote against the skywalk  bridge, because it would “interrupt the continuity of the street.” Committee member Amy Stein, who voted against the skywalk, said it was “anti-intuitive to being integrated into that urban environment that Temple exists within.”

Despite these recommendations, the university moved forward with the project, which was later approved. Construction on the skywalk began in August.

It is disappointing that the university seemed to ignore legitimate concerns about the architectural preservation of the community. To avoid other impositions, the university should be cautious about how much space it takes up and what visual markers it uses to claim that space.

“There is this sense of antagonism between Temple and the North Philadelphia community, where people feel as though Temple is encroaching on the neighborhood, but not inviting the neighborhood to be a part of Temple’s campus,” said Timothy Welbeck, a geography and urban studies adjunct instructor.

Welbeck said we need to be “more mindful of those types of initiatives and how they impact the community.”

The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia promotes the appreciation, protection and appropriate development of historic buildings and communities in Philadelphia. In 2009, it published “Philadelphia’s African American Heritage: A Brief Historic Context Statement,” a study that explored six historically Black neighborhoods in the city, including the area surrounding Temple.

“The historic sites and buildings that embody this rich heritage are still scattered around the city, both as reminders of the past and as current community pillars,” the study states. “These resources deserve recognition and protection, and to be celebrated not only for their importance to Black history, but for their significance to the history of Philadelphia.”

Temple should heed the Preservation Alliance’s advice when building facilities to ensure North Philadelphia residents can still recognize their community.

Regarding past construction projects, the damage has already been done for many North Philadelphians. But it isn’t too late to preserve the surrounding community’s integrity in future Temple buildings.

Many of the university’s 107 construction projects remain ongoing, most noticeably the library in the middle of Liacouras Walk. I hope the university considers the North Philadelphia community in the early planning stages of future projects.

By redesigning buildings on Main Campus, the university risks erasing decades of historical North Philadelphia architecture. The community has been here far longer than the university, and its residents deserve to see themselves in their own neighborhood.

Rae Burach
can be reached at rbur@temple.edu Follow The Temple News @TheTempleNews

4 Comments

  1. In her article, Rae Burach, echos the sentiments of long term neighborhood residents, a rare acknowledgement from the Temple community. Over 60 years, I have observed the destruction of historic archetectural gems as Temple University has expanded its campus footprint. During the 1950’s residents west of Broad Street were threatened by the city and university’s plans to demolish their homes to make way for their expansion. Residents united and defeated their plans. They shifted their focus to target expansion est of Broad Street which resulted in destroying homes like those in the Spring Garden area. These 3 story homes were on streets with bricked side walks, marble front steps, large arched entryways with french doors. Inside the homes, the foyers were marble, 10 – 12 ft ceilings, majestic woodwork throughout the home, marble fireplaces and curved stairs from the 2nd floor into the dining room. Today, Temple conspires to build a 35,000 seat stadium on land, where homes once stood, that it patiently acquired through the decades. Today, Temple boast that it’s plans will not displace any residents. However, residents, such as myself, know this to be a lie because the displacement occurred many years ago. The proposed stadium site is on one-traffic-lane streets directly across the street from historic home as described by Rae Burach. While Temple personnel, such as Dr. Molefi Asante and John Street may say our community wants the stadium, nothing could be further from the truth. Over the five years that temple has been planning this stadium, President Theobold and Englert have failed to have a community meeting to inform community residents of their plans. Opting instead to talk with select residents. Temple leadership is lagging in integrity and respect for our community, not a good neighbor.

    • Without Temple University, North Philadelphia would still be a complete shit hole. The residents have never done anything to get rid of the filth incorporating the area. Gentrification has caused greater economic development in North Philadelphia

  2. Ruth Birchett’s,comments are 100% on point.I,too, am a long-term resident of North Central and live in the house I grew up in when my mother and sister moved there in 1960 from Raymond Rosen public housing.

    Temple University’s taking of land east and west of Broad Street over decades, has caused major displacement of individuals and families. Now, resident taxpayers are faced with a stadium being disrespectfully proposed with only “select” people.

    This stadium is not just a North Central issue; it is a city-wide issue.

    We, as taxpayers must stand up, speak up, and show up on Thursday, March 1, 2018, at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science at 6pm.

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