Drexel to Follow in Penn’s Community-University Footsteps

The University of Pennsylvania is well-known as a leader in community-university partnerships, and especially the kind that actually try to build community wealth. Under the leadership of Judith Rodin, now president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Penn responded to a public safety and disinvestment crisis in its surrounding neighborhoods by looking outward rather than retreating inward—through not just development, but also economic inclusion initiatives such as local hiring, local contracting, and local purchasing, plus incentives for faculty to purchase homes in West Philadelphia.

John A. Fry was executive vice president of Penn under Rodin from 1995 to 2002, and participated heavily in the Penn Compact, as it was called. After a stint at Franklin & Marshall college, Fry has taken a position as president of Drexel College, a large commuter campus and a neighbor of Penn’s.

Fry is looking to apply some of the lessons of Penn’s approach to support Drexel’s surrounding neighborhoods and ameliorate the effect of Drexel’s recent rapid growth, which has led to an influx of poorly maintained student rental housing.

Revitalization strategies based on anchor institutions, like Penn’s, or like Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperatives, seem to be getting less attention in the current crisis-focused climate, but it seems like they are if anything, even more crucial in a time of misguided federal austerity and neighborhood destabilization. It will be interesting to see how the combination of Drexel and Penn takes off, and whether or how it will be integrated with other community development efforts in the city.

Are you from Philly? What do think are the promises and the challenges of Drexel’s new goals?

(Photo by connery.cepeda, CC BY-NC-ND)

Miriam Axel-Lute is CEO/editor-in-chief of Shelterforce. She lives in Albany, New York, and is a proud small-city aficionado.


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