Editorial: Temple's bold plan

Posted: September 19, 2009

There's much to like in Temple University President Ann Weaver Hart's ambitious plan to make Broad Street the focal point of the North Philadelphia campus. It calls for a library, a high-rise residence hall, and a student center. More important than the bricks and mortar, though, is how the plan will help Temple build a better relationship with nearby residents, who have frequently been at odds with the university over student parking and housing.

Located along the northern Broad Street corridor, the proposed new amenities would make the campus more appealing to students and open up the school's border to the community. For example, the library would be accessible to both neighborhood residents and students.

As a good neighbor, Temple could spark a new movement to reinvest and stabilize a community that for too long has been hindered by crime and poverty.

Despite a primary concern for safeguarding its students, Temple is removing iron fencing from around its perimeter. Beyond the symbolism, that should make the campus more accessible to the rest of the community.

Hart said she wants to "bring our students out of the neighborhood and onto Broad Street." That should have happened a long time ago. The University of Pennsylvania and La Salle University have tried similar efforts to help boost their neighborhoods.

It is a major undertaking for Hart, who has been somewhat sluggish in moving forward with her vision for the university since arriving in July 2006.

If it comes to fruition, the 10-year plan, dubbed Temple 2020, could become a fitting legacy for Hart as the university's first female president. The plan was recently announced as part of Temple's 125th anniversary celebration. University officials have not said how much the plan would cost, nor how they would pay for it - two crucial details that could determine whether the plan will be more than a pipe dream. But those details are expected after a state budget is passed.

Endorsed by Temple's board of trustees, Hart's plan certainly has the potential to become a home run both for the 37,000-student university and for the surrounding neighborhood.

The Broad Street area near Temple has already been undergoing a makeover to revitalize it. A movie theater has been added, and a supermarket is planned.

Under Hart's plan, the size of the 105-acre campus would not expand, which should appeal to residents and community leaders. Instead, it would grow vertically, with taller buildings, and convert existing space for new purposes.

Gaining public support for her plan will be the next big test for Hart, who has had some rough times during her tenure.

Union leaders criticized her handling of recent contract negotiations, but they did reach a settlement. And Hart showed how determined she can be in standing up to state lawmakers who questioned the decision to close Northeastern Hospital, which was set to amass a $15.5 million deficit this year.

It will take similar determination to forge her vision for Temple and North Philadelphia into a reality that will serve the university and the city very well.

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