A story in last Saturday’s Philadelphia Inquirer tracked Temple’s performance on a 1995 deal in which the University promised $5 million to fight urban blight in exchange for permission from the city to build The Apollo of Temple, now called The Liacouras Center.
According to the article, Temple is not solely responsible for the plan’s failure. Nevertheless, Temple’s relationship with the surrounding North Philadelphia community has been hotly contested throughout the years.
Although Temple is an institution unto itself with its own problems and financial woes, it does have a vested interest in the surrounding neighborhoods. A built-up North Philadelphia with increased safety would make Temple more attractive to prospective students. Most of Temple’s efforts to improve the area, however, have been focussed on expanding the Main Campus.
Temple is a part of the city’s Avenue of the Arts program, but it should look beyond the campus and seek to improve the surrounding communities.
The University of Pennsylvania has had a program running for several years in which faculty can receive financial assistance to purchase homes in the West Philadelphia communities surrounding their main campus.
I doubt that many Temple-goers would enjoy the thought of living on the streets that surround Main Campus as they are now, but imagine Temple students having access to safe off-campus housing near Main Campus. The University would no longer need to invest in new dormitories if students could find decent housing in the surrounding communities.
A press release dated July 6, 1998 described support from former Temple President Peter Liacouras for a plan by the city and an outside investor to build a $50 million entertainment and retail complex on the 1600 block of North Broad Street. After four years of little movement, this land is now vacant.
If this project does go through, it would be good for Temple. However, Temple will continue to be an oasis unless the surrounding community is built up.
A complex such as the one proposed for 1600 North Broad Street is in line with the recommendations of an Urban Initiatives study published by Temple’s Architecture Program in 1999.
The study recommended augmenting existing North Philadelphia landmarks such as Freedom Theater and Progress Plaza with a symbolic city-to-neighborhood gateway, establishing public parks and open spaces, rebuilding vacant land for economic development or recreation, and establishing pedestrian walkways.
Whatever projects are considered, the established residents of the communities around Temple must be taken into account. When Temple began construction of the Liacouras Center, neighborhood residents complained of poor treatment in Temple’s appropriation of land, disregard for property by construction workers, and illness due to construction dust.
The strained relationship between Temple and surrounding communities may be best illustrated by the debate over closing 13th street to traffic in favor of a walkway for students.
It is not entirely Temple’s responsibility to develop North Philadelphia. Temple has its own funding woes, and does do a considerable amount of outreach to people in North Philadelphia communities through education initiatives like Project SHINE and Get SMART. Still, Temple stands to benefit from an improved North Philadelphia and should be an active participant in community development.
Vincent Lizzi can be reched at firstname.lastname@example.org