University City, Philadelphia

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University City
Neighborhood of Philadelphia
University City as viewed from the University Avenue Bridge.
University City as viewed from the University Avenue Bridge.
Coordinates: 39°57′12″N 75°10′12″W / 39.95333°N 75.17000°W / 39.95333; -75.17000
Country  United States
State Pennsylvania
County Philadelphia County
City Philadelphia
ZIP Code 19104, 19139, and 19143
Area code(s) Area code 215

University City is the easternmost part of West Philadelphia. [1]

The University of Pennsylvania has long been the dominant institution in the area and was instrumental in coining the name "University City" as part of a 1950s urban-renewal and gentrification effort.[2][3] Today, Drexel University and the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia also call University City home.

The eastern side of University City is home to the Penn and Drexel campuses, several medical institutions, independent centers of scientific research, 30th Street Station, and the Cira Centre. The western side contains Victorian and early 20th-century housing stock and is primarily residential.

The area is ethnically and economically diverse, although the compositions of its 12 census tracts vary widely; for example, the population in the mid-2000s of the easternmost tract was about half white and one-third Asian, while that of the northwesternmost tract was almost entirely black.[4]


40th and Chestnut Streets area of University City

University City's boundaries, as defined by the non-profit University City District organization and the City of Philadelphia, are the Schuylkill River to the east; Spring Garden Street, Powelton Avenue, and Market Street to the north; 52nd Street to the west; and Woodland Avenue, University Avenue, and Civic Center Boulevard to the south.[5][6][7] Within these boundaries are the local neighborhoods of Cedar Park, Garden Court, Spruce Hill, Squirrel Hill, Powelton Village, Walnut Hill, and Woodland Terrace. The boundaries also encompass several historic districts and the ZIP codes 19104, 19139, and 19143.

Names of the region[edit]

These stickers appeared in the neighborhood and around the Penn campus in spring 2007. Penn spokesman Andrew Zitcer responded to them with an opinion piece in the weekly City Paper newspaper.[8]
A small Lenapehoking sticker applied to a large THIS IS WEST PHILLY sticker underlines the complexity of the arguments over naming, power, and ownership of the area.

Blockley is one of the earliest names applied to this region. In 1677, William Warner purchased 1,500 acres (6.1 km2) from the local Indian tribe and named the area.[9] Blockley Township had a poor reputation in the 19th century. "It was an ideal hideout for shadowy characters and evil-doers who crossed the river in skiffs after a thieving or smuggling job south of the city. As late as 1850 it was considered hazardous to be abroad alone in this area."[10] The Blockley Almshouse, later known as Philadelphia General Hospital, was located here. Philadelphia was founded five years after Blockley, but its influence was quickly felt. People soon started calling the Township of Blockley "West Philadelphia".[11] Later, parts of Blockley were carved out to form the District of West Philadelphia.

In 1735, Andrew Hamilton, a "Philadelphia Lawyer", purchased 300 acres (1.2 km2) of land within Blockley Township. This area came to be known as Hamilton Village[12] and The Woodlands, a sprawling botanical garden and mansion were built here. The gardens is now the Woodlands Cemetery. Much of the rest of Hamilton Village is now covered by the 40th St. retail corridor.

Cira Centre is located on the eastern side of University City.

A small section on the northern side of this area was once known as Greenville.[13] Situated near Lancaster Ave, Powelton Ave, and Market St., Greenville served as a waypoint for travelers and cattle drivers. Many taverns and inns accommodated the travelers. Later, the area expanded in all directions with many German immigrants and offered much more than simple taverns. By the mid-20th century, the Greenville area had changed again to a neighborhood that was colloquially referred to as the Black Bottom, or the Barbadian, named for immigrants from either Barbados of the West Indies or the Bahamas in the Caribbean[citation needed]), signifying the neighborhood's racial and economic status. Much of this neighborhood was destroyed as part of a gentrification plan in the 1960s.[14]

The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a time of enormous growth in the area. The arrival of electrified streetcars in the 1890s kickstarted development to the west of 43rd Street, and bridges and a tunnel in the first decade of the 20th century allowed people to easily commute into Center City.[15] This led to rapid development within the borders of University City and far beyond. It was around this time that the "local" neighborhood names like Spruce Hill and Cedar Park[16] were established.

In the mid-1950s, the name University City was coined as a marketing tool by two realtors (former Penn graduates) in an attempt to attract Penn faculty back to the neighborhoods near Penn.[3] The boundaries were defined as extending from the "Schuylkill River to 52nd Street, and from Haverford Avenue to the Media-line railroad tracks south of Kingsessing Avenue — though over the years many have viewed it as a smaller domain". This has led to some community tension; some saw it as an attempt to secede from West Philadelphia.[3]

Central University City

West Philadelphia was a recent scene of the Urban Indian culture, especially of the Lenni-Lenape or Delaware Indian tribe. Their community of University City, Philadelphia is called "Lenapehoking" for the indigenous name for the region. Also the Iroquois Confederacy formed communities here and in Boston, New York City, Washington DC and Cleveland by the BIA relocation program during the mid 20th century. Although minuscule in number, many of them (their moniker the "Mohawks") arrived as skyscraper construction workers.[citation needed]

Town and gown relations[edit]

One of four bridges painted by Penn in the spring of 2007 bearing the message "welcome to university city" and co-branding it with the Penn logo. This bridge is above Walnut Street, looking west. Since the mid-1980s it had been painted "University of Pennsylvania".[17]

University City has a history of strained town and gown relations, particularly with Penn, the city's largest private employer and the second-largest private employer in Pennsylvania. Since the 1960s, Penn has led a series of gentrification and redevelopment programs that have changed the character of the area. Some locals call this "Penntrification" or "McPenntrification",[18] names meant to suggest that the efforts benefit only those with a relationship to Penn. Some, including local anarchists,[19] believe Penn's actions divide the community.

Opened in 2001, the Penn Alexander public elementary school, which Penn helped to build and subsidizes, is closed to students outside its "catchment".[20] The Penn Mortgage program is available only for homes purchased within Penn's definition of the boundaries of University City. The university is also an active participant in branding the area as "University City", with its logo showing up next to the name on signs and bridges (not including street signs directing to University City, which are erected by the city, state, and federal governments).

For decades, 40th Street was generally considered the "invisible campus boundary" between the residential neighborhoods to the west and the Penn campus to the east.[21] In recent years, the "Penn bubble" is said to have expanded further west.[22]

Major redevelopment projects[edit]

Science Center[edit]

As part of the Housing Act of 1949, Congress established the "Slum Clearance and Community Development and Redevelopment" program, commissioning federal funds to "assist local communities in eliminating their slums and blighted areas and in providing the maximum opportunity for the redevelopment of project areas by private enterprise." [23] A few years prior, in 1945, the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia (RDA) was formed with the power to acquire and redevelop land through condemnation proceedings. This power to take land reached University City when The West Philadelphia Corporation (WPC) was formed in 1959 by a group of local institutions including Penn.[24] By 1965, the WPC had developed a massive plan to demolish homes and redevelop the land as a center of private scientific research. Within four years, the University City Science Center had been established and most of the buildings on Market St. between 34th St. and 40th St. had been demolished.[25]


View of superblock from 40th St.

Over the course of 1968 to 1970 and with the assistance of the local redevelopment authorities, Penn acquired, cleared and redeveloped the 4 block area between 38th, 40th, Spruce, and Walnut streets. This area became known as "Superblock" and its primary features are three high-rise apartment-style dormitories.[26] The key purpose of creating these high-rises was to accommodate 3,500 more students at the University. The whole superblock project and especially the high-rise design have been widely criticized,[27] but this view is not held by everyone.[28]

Civic Center complex[edit]

Beginning in 1991, Penn publicly expressed official interest in acquiring the 19.2 acres (78,000 m2) to the southeast of its campus occupied by the Philadelphia Civic Center complex. After the opening of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in 1992, the Civic Center was mostly unused. In 1998, a City Council resolution was put forth to turn over much of this property to Penn and CHOP.[29] The initial plans were not fully developed, but did not call for the demolition of Convention Hall, the location of several historic events.[30] By 2005, plans had been expanded and the whole site, including Convention Hall, was slated for demolition to make way for a new clinical care facility attached to the hospital. Many local preservationists were opposed to this.[31] Some were mollified by an exhaustive study commissioned by Penn to find alternate uses for the buildings and demolition continued.[32] The last remaining building in the complex, Pennsylvania Hall, was demolished on March 3, 2007.[33] Penn's Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine was officially opened on October 2, 2008.[34]

Postal lands[edit]

In 2007, Penn bought 24 acres (97,000 m2) between its campus and the Schuylkill river, an area formerly occupied by the United States Postal Service known as the Postal Lands. (This 1994 map shows the area before the GE building was refurbished into the Left Bank and the Cira Centre was built.[35]) According to plans in the works since 2005, Penn officials intend to build several facilities and to connect its campus with the riverfront and Center City. New buildings will include office buildings, parking garages, hotel and conference spaces and more green space on campus. A walkway will extend from Locust Walk and connect to Center City via a pedestrian bridge over the Schuylkill River. Construction began in 2007. The first of four stages will cost an estimated $1.94 billion, including about $194 million from city taxpayers.[36][37] In addition, the former post office is to be turned into office space for the Internal Revenue Service.

On November 6, 2008, Cira Center developer Brandywine Realty Trust said that it has postponed part of its Cira 2 mixed-use development because of the 2008 financial crisis. The larger tower, Cira Centre South, remains under construction with a planned completion date of 2016.[38][39][40]

University City District[edit]

UCD bike patrol

University City District (UCD) is the name of a private, non-profit organization created by the University of Pennsylvania and other local institutions in 1997 in an effort to provide University City with additional safety, cleanup, and marketing services as well as help in coordinating district initiatives.[41]

UCD demographics report[edit]

In 2007, the University City District released a new edition of its University City Report Card, based on 2006 demographic statistics.[42]

The report said the area had 45,787 people living in 16,625 households, 29% of which are classified as "family" households and the rest as "non-family". The average household size was two people, whose median age was 23.8 years. Median household income was $23,749; median "family" household income was $40,042. 8.1% of households had incomes of $100,000 or more and 35.2% had incomes of less than $15,000. The racial makeup of University City was about 42% Black, 35% White, 18% Asian/Pacific Islander, 4% Hispanic, with the remainder not classified.

The report said local businesses employed 63,878, with educational services employing 53.1% of them and health care services 21%. The largest employers were Penn, with 13,239 employees; Penn Health, 11,136; CHoP, 6,855; Drexel-Main, 2,706; AMTRAK, 2,551; and the VA, 2,100.

The median price of homes purchased in 2006 was $312,000, up 22% from 2005. The average monthly rent for a studio apartment was $667; a one-bedroom apartment, $823; and a two-bedroom apartment, $1,174.

Local institutions[edit]

Main Building, Drexel, c. 1892
CHoP, c. 2007


Higher education[edit]

By number of students in 2006:[43]

Secondary education[edit]

Primary education[edit]

  • Public (School District of Philadelphia)
    • Alexander Wilson School (K-5): 46th and Woodland Ave.
    • Charles R. Drew School (PreK-8): 38th and Powelton Ave.
    • Henry C. Lea School (K-8): 47th and Locust St.
    • Middle Years Alternative & Parkway School (6-12): 49th and Chestnut St.
    • Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School (K-8): 42nd and Locust St.
    • Samuel Powel School (K-4): 36th and Powelton Ave.
  • Private
    • Christ Memorial Day School (K-6): 43rd and Chestnut St.
    • HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy (ages 2–21): 4400 Baltimore Ave.
    • Jubilee School (pre-K-6):42nd and Chester Ave.
    • Spruce Hill Christian School (K-8): 42nd and Baltimore Av.
  • Parochial

Public libraries[edit]

Walnut Street West Branch

The Free Library of Philadelphia Walnut Street West Branch serves University City.[45]



Not including the scientific departments of the local universities




Government representation[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^[dead link]
  2. ^ UCHS account of the origin of the name University City
  3. ^ a b c Lois Bye Funderburg's account of the origin of name "University City".
  4. ^ "Mapping America -- Every City, Every Block". New York times/ Census. Retrieved Aug 27, 2012. 
  5. ^ UCD: Boundary map of University City.[dead link]
  6. ^ UCD: Description of University City's boundaries.[dead link]
  7. ^ Philadelphia Government list of neighborhoods
  8. ^ CP: Schemers on the Schuylkill: Should Marketers Name our Neighborhoods?[dead link]
  9. ^ UCHS: Early history of The Area
  10. ^ UCHS: Notes about Blockley Township.
  11. ^ UCHS: Development of "West Philadelphia" which in the 18th century generally referred to what is now called University City.
  12. ^ UCHS: History of Hamilton Village
  13. ^ UCHS account of the history of Greenville
  14. ^ UCHS: West Philadelphia Corporation's origins
  15. ^ "Studio 34's Eponymous Trolley, or, A Short History of Route 34". Studio 34: Yoga Healing Arts. 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  16. ^ CPN: History of Cedar Park.
  17. ^ DP: A Fresh Coat of Paint Goes a Long Way
  18. ^ DP: McPenntrification
  19. ^ An anarchist perspective on Penn's changes to the area
  20. ^[dead link]
  21. ^ PG: The Rodin Years
  22. ^ DP: University City Blues: Meet the often-overlooked West Philadelphians who make life at Penn possible.[dead link]
  23. ^ UPA: History of the development of the University City Science Center.
  24. ^ UPA: West Philadelphia Corporation formed.
  25. ^ UPA: Massive redevelopment plan for West Philadelphia, centered around the University City Science Center.
  26. ^ PG: The man behind superblock
  27. ^ "DP: Getting past a bad precedent"
  29. ^ U. likely to get big chunks of Civic Center
  30. ^ Trustees updated on Civic Center
  31. ^ Ad hoc group is fighting Convention Hall demolition
  32. ^ Convention hall demolition: Despite protests, plans for new cancer center proceed
  33. ^ Video of demolition of Pennsylvania Hall
  34. ^ Perelman Center construction timeline
  35. ^ PP: Schuylkill West Bank Map from 1994 redevelopment plan.[dead link]
  36. ^ Entrepreneur Magazine: Postal Lands development
  37. ^ DP: Eastern Expansion
  38. ^ Philadelphia Business Journal: Cira Centre South
  39. ^ Penn's official site for Cira Centre South
  40. ^ Daily Pennsylvanian article
  41. ^ UCD: District programs[dead link]
  42. ^ UCD: University City Report Card 2007[dead link]
  43. ^ UCD: University City Report Card 2007: School populations, p. 11/40[dead link]
  44. ^ PCP moved to UC in 1928
  45. ^ "Walnut Street West Branch." Free Library of Philadelphia. Retrieved on October 19, 2012.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°57′N 75°12′W / 39.95°N 75.2°W / 39.95; -75.2