News flash: a laundromat opened up recently. There’s plenty of space and a nice-sized seating area with convenient folding tables, and it offers free wireless Internet, which makes it attractive to college students. One minor problem may be its location – 17th and Diamond streets.
While this business may be relatively close to Main Campus, for some students it seems like every block farther away from the red flags is riskier than the last.
“I’m scared to walk past my block,” junior marketing major April Mauger said. She lives in an apartment on the same square as the Diamond Laundromat.
Mauger admitted she would go the extra distance if it meant avoiding a “bad” neighborhood. For example, she gets off the Broad Street Line at Cecil B. Moore station, even though Susquehanna-Dauphin station is closer to her residence.
“People get mugged during the day,” Mauger said. “But I feel fine as soon as I get to campus.”
Although they may not consciously realize it, the roughly 10,000 Temple students that live on or around campus live in North Philadelphia and are part of its community. So why should thousands of North Philadelphia residents restrict themselves to the safe bubble that is Temple?
For starters, everything students need is here – housing, food, computers, post office, travel agency, banks, recreational spaces and coffee.
Associate Vice President of Business Services Rich Rumer said that these services are important because there is a competitive nature among colleges. He added that students pay the tuition and the General Activities Fee to subsidize operations like this.
Plus, Temple works hard to sprout businesses around campus that will attract students. Rumer explained that the businesses affiliated with the university through programs like Diamond Dollars are marketed by Temple toward students, faculty and staff. In fact, as of January, this program has extended to all enterprises within 500 feet of the campus – including the stores of Avenue North and the 1400 block of Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
But Rumer said that Temple is still in an early stage of development.
“We’re not like University City,” Rumer said.
Rumer said not only does Temple employ a great number of North Philadelphia residents, but it also creates disposable income through the tens of thousands of students.
“If it weren’t for us being here, there wouldn’t be all the people here creating business,” he said. “We’re an integral part of what’s going on.”
As for the surrounding neighborhoods, Rumer said there is not much a college student would be looking for in North Philadelphia because the development has not reached that far yet. Nonetheless, he said that at the current pace, more people will be likely to stay in North Philadelphia because they like the area.
“As we continue to grow, people are happy, people stay here after graduation,” he said. “It’s good for the city and North Philly.”
Vice President of Operations William Bergman agrees that Temple is becoming more of a destination.
“Students go out a little bit further every year,” he said. “We’ve developed such vibrancy here and they’re taking advantage of it.”
Bergman said the university’s developmental decisions are made with the community’s perspective in mind. He meets monthly with community leaders from west and east of Broad Street. He explained that during these meetings, Temple’s representatives try to give a sense of what is happening with the campus, and they discuss any concerns they may have.
Although Bergman said that they do not get a great deal of complaints, a problem that does come up is conflicting lifestyles – for example, noisy houses in a quiet neighborhood.
“We send people to take care of it,” he said. “Not in a policing function, but in a neighboring function.”
Bergman described Temple’s long history of working with its neighbors. He explained that they grow with the university in terms of employment, education and events.
L. Harrison Jay, director of the Community Education Center, also works closely with various prominent members of the North Philadelphia community, in addition to overseeing the operations at the CEC.
Throughout his duration there, Jay said he noticed Temple’s impact on the surrounding community. He sees the development as a “revitalization process,” during which the university is helping to stimulate a business economy in North Philadelphia.
“From my perspective, the community clearly views Temple as a positive resource,” he said.
However, some North Philadelphia residents see Temple as an intruder. Eleanor Farmer, treasurer of the Church of the Advocate on Diamond Street, said that Temple’s expansion was at first seen as neighborhood gentrification.
“I would think a lot of people view Temple as taking over,” she said. “It has taken over buildings and houses. People had to move and they resented it.”
Farmer said she wishes Temple played more of a community role.
“I’d like to see Temple be more community-involved,” she said. “We really welcome that.”
The church’s pastor, Rev. Isaac Miller, said that he observes how the university acts proactively.
“I’m worried about all the things you don’t want to consider,” Miller said. “How things could affect the image of the community. Young people represent an incredible asset. Figure out how to make use of it.”
Miller said he believes the relationship between North Philadelphia and Temple has potential for an enriching learning experience on both ends.
The fear factor, however, still plays a part in Temple students reaching out to North Philadelphians. Farmer understands this, but said she does not feel threatened.
“It’s supposedly a high-crime area,” she said. “I don’t feel unsafe. I try to be careful wherever I go.”
Jay said the stigma surrounding North Philadelphia is irrelevant. He explained that the area holds its own intrinsic beauty and encourages people to “recognize the diamonds that are in the rough.”
Sarah Sanders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.