Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Author's Blog: Neighborhood Revitalization and the Anchor Institution: Assessing the Impact of the University of Pennsylvania's West Philadelphia Initiatives on University City

This is an author-produced blog post to introduce upcoming Urban Affairs Review articles. This article is available in OnlineFirst. The abstract and article are available to download for free until October 25, 2015. 


Meagan Ehlenz

Early Friday morning, January 18, 2013, adults began forming a line outside the Penn Alexander School (PAS) in Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood. By nightfall, more than seventy people had literally set up camp with tents and sleeping bags extending down the block to guard against the twenty-nine degree (F) chill. While this scene may be familiar to concertgoers or video gamers the night before a big release, the inhabitants of this encampment were different. They were all parents of 4 year olds with a single goal: to enroll their children in kindergarten when class registration opened on January 22nd, four days later.

When PAS opened its doors in 2001, few anticipated the implications of its first-come, first-serve enrollment policy. The Penn-sponsored public school had been conceived in 1998 at a time when West Philadelphia was plagued by crime, families were fleeing the neighborhood, and the public school system was in disarray. In response and conjunction with neighborhood associations, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) had fostered a relationship with the Philadelphia School District to establish a neighborhood elementary school. The university donated the land for the K-8 facility and invested substantial resources into its construction and operations. These investments were a key component of Penn’s broader neighborhood revitalization strategy, the West Philadelphia Initiatives (WPI), which aimed to stabilize neighborhood conditions, improve property values, and attract and retain residents.