As a lifetime resident of the Greater Philadelphia area, I have a connection to the City of Brotherly Love that students from other areas may not have. I love this city, from the depth of the great Northeast, to my people’s Italian haven in South Philly, to the beauty of Old City, to the quirky Northern Liberties, and to the place I now inhabit, West Philly. Others may just see Philly as an aggressive city with good cheesesteaks, crazy sports fans and lots of historical places, and while it is all of these things, Philly is also so much more.
Philly is a community — a dysfunctional one, but a community nonetheless. Philly also happens to have one of the highest crime rates in the United States, according to the FBI’s 2011 data collection. The worst areas? North Philly and West Philly. Coincidentally, three of Philly’s most well-known colleges reside in these areas, with the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University in University City and Temple University in North Philly.
University City, a mainly gentrified area, is the name given to the college-infested region of West Philly. This gentrification has been spreading to the surrounding communities as well. Indeed, if you go deeper into West Philly, there are a number of blocks that are surprisingly nice, until you reach the part of West Philly that has yet to be reached by this change.
Why, though, is gentrification becoming so prevalent in this area? When students inevitably decide to move out of University Housing or University-affiliated housing, they normally choose to move into a home or apartment in West Philly, normally on a street south of Spring Garden Street and east of 40th Street. This doesn’t allow for much space, however, and Drexel is already lacking sufficient housing for all of its students. Drexel cannot afford to have students choose Drexel housing over regular housing beyond their sophomore year due to the massive overflow of students. Yet many students are afraid to move past the “OK” part of West Philly, which poses major issues.
Where will they live? Certainly, locations close to campus are more desirable to students, and because Drexel has a fair bit of influence in the city, it is plausible that Drexel will attempt to gentrify areas past the “safe zone.” Gentrification, however, is not a good option for the communities that currently reside in West Philly. While it increases the value of the neighborhoods and, at times, improves the quality of the neighborhoods, gentrification forces current residents, who are typically low-income minorities, to either try to keep up with the rising prices and taxes or to move out, usually deeper into the ghetto. Clearly, this is not a respectable solution to Drexel’s problem. However, with combined pressure from parents and students, it’s possible that Drexel will ignore the negatives and attempt to cultivate some type of gentrification or urban renewal, as it already has in a variety of areas.
As a self-proclaimed lover of this city, I am deeply troubled by this possibility. Drexel is a university, not an authority, and on a moral level, they should absolutely not be in favor of displacing residents around them solely for the benefits of their students and alumni. Furthermore, students at Drexel are presumably adults and are thus liable for themselves. At schools like Temple, students are warned of the dangers that surround them, but there is otherwise little to no attempt to change the area around the school purely for the students’ benefit. This may seem negligent, but students have the ability to make choices for themselves, and there are other solutions to this issue.
Offering “lessons” on safety in rough areas could prove to be beneficial for students nervous about living in a potentially unsafe environment. Additionally, assigning Drexel Public Safety officers to such areas would likely dramatically improve the comfort level among students considering the possibility of living off campus. I see an overwhelming number of DPS officers around campus with seemingly nothing to do, yet when I took a late-night walk through Mantua, I saw only two officers, three blocks from Spring Garden, and no more after that. With so many DPS officers who have little to do on campus, it would seem prudent to place them deeper in West Philly to help assure students’ safety and encourage students to move there.
There are undoubtedly many more solutions to the housing problem that do not involve displacing current residents, solutions that Drexel should consider before proceeding. As a university, it is important to ensure that the leaders of the future are conscious of the effects that their decisions have on others as well as responsibility to their communities. By promoting gentrification, the message conveyed is one of selfishness and self-righteousness. Drexel must consider the city and its residents, not just the students of Drexel.
Erin DiPiano is a freshman communications major at Drexel University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org