Share Button

From research to real estate, how Penn connects.

By Amy Gutmann | A team of researchers from Penn and St. Joseph’s University recently smashed a speed barrier in electronics. They constructed long chains of tiny molecules called chromophores and linked them closely together. Electrons “hopping” quickly from one chain to the next generated an electrical charge that traveled three times faster than the previous record.

This discovery in the white-hot field of nanotechnology (nano means “one-billionth”) could lead to versatile mini-products powered by high-speed nanoscale circuitry that save everything from energy to lives. This breakthrough also offers a stunning reminder that forging strong, close connections with those around us can literally spark progress.

Penn has advanced global progress for more than two-and-a-half centuries by creating and reinforcing dynamic links between academic theory and professional practice. Penn’s nimbleness in weaving strong cross-disciplinary ties has moved us to the forefront of innovative teaching and research across the spectrum of learning. In the life sciences and nanotechnology (Penn was ranked No. 1 in the United States this year for nanotech research by the industry’s Small Times magazine). In the arts and humanities. In education and economic development.

When we take possession next year of 24 industrial acres that border the Schuylkill River, we will seize a once-in-a-century opportunity to strengthen and build new connections throughout our campus and to form a seamless tie between University City and Center City. These connections will bolster the regional economy and quality of life and exponentially increase Penn’s global linkages for discovering and applying knowledge.

Since the summer of 2004 teams of faculty, students and staff from across the University have been pooling ideas and expertise in collaboration with the expert planning team of Sasaki & Associates to create a campus development plan for the ages. The result is Penn Connects, a vision for accelerating our advance from excellence to eminence.

Connecting through Interdisciplinary Teaching and Research. Penn’s drive to link diverse strands of knowledge is taking many forms. This fall we are delighted to welcome to campus our first Penn Integrates Knowledge professor, Dr. John L. Jackson, Jr. As the Richard Perry University Associate Professor of Communications and Anthropology, Dr. Jackson holds joint appointments in the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Arts and Sciences, and also will be affiliated with the Center for Africana Studies. A leading scholar of cultural anthropology, author of Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity, and Harlemworld: Doing Race and Class in Contemporary Black America, and an award-winning documentary filmmaker, Dr. Jackson will contribute expertise in urban studies, communications, and race studies through his teaching and research. We plan to announce other Penn Integrates Knowledge faculty appointments in the coming year.

Our campus is buzzing with interdisciplinary inquiry into the pressing issues of our time. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Penn organized conferences in Washington D.C. and on campus to pinpoint the most up-to-date expertise on disaster risk and preparedness. Nine Penn schools and centers brought leading scholars, journalists, and community leaders to campus for a three-day symposium addressing the plight of young African American men. Penn’s Institute for Strategic Threat Analysis and Response (ISTAR) and our School of Veterinary Medicine are hard at work helping the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania develop preparedness plans for potential health crises such as pandemics and bioterrorism.

Penn also is at the forefront of integrated knowledge in the life sciences. During the past year, Penn was designated by the National Institutes of Health to establish a new Center for Molecular Discovery as well as a Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology. We also welcomed the first class into our new Roy and Diana Vagelos joint degree program in Life Sciences and Management.

To succeed, innovative programs require innovative facilities. Last year, Penn opened the Carolyn Hoff Lynch Biology Laboratory, a building designed specifically to encourage collaboration and shared discovery while providing a worthy home for our Genomics Institute. We eagerly anticipate the fall opening of Skirkanich Hall, a state-of-the-art bioengineering facility (designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien) that will dramatically boost engineering classroom, office, and laboratory space. Our eminent School of Veterinary Medicine will acquire much-needed teaching, library and research space with the January 2007 opening of its Vernon and Shirley Hill Pavilion. The Annenberg Public Policy Center is working with Fumihiko Maki to design a new home on the site of the former Penn Hillel building on 36th Street Walk, where it will offer public meeting rooms and research offices.

We will need to continue building great research and teaching facilities in order to remain at the top of our game. It should be no surprise that one of our first Penn Connects priorities will be a new nanotechnology building customized to support nanotech’s specific needs and worthy of our top-ranked program. The Penn Connects plan identifies potential sites for additional medical and life science facilities that will not be far behind, and is poised to address the University’s other academic and research needs as they arise.

Connecting for Access. An abiding belief in educational opportunity as a cornerstone of American democracy fired Benjamin Franklin to found our great University. Under the Penn Compact we have launched a major effort to increase financial aid and to reach out to qualified students who might not have considered a Penn education within their grasp. We must substantially boost our endowment in the coming years so that we can better accommodate all who need and deserve financial assistance.

At the same time we are working to develop an environment that enhances connections among our living and learning community. This fall, the new Platt Performing Arts Hub will become the fourth campus-wide hub, joining Kelly Writers House, Civic House, and Weiss Tech House. Located in Stouffer College House, the Platt Performing Arts Hub will encourage a fresh flowering of Penn music, dance, and artistic spirit.

Our added acreage will enable us to kick off several campus development projects designed to foster community-wide connections. One of the first Penn Connects enhancements will be the addition of green spaces that can host both recreational and unprogrammed team sports. In the coming years a series of recreational areas near the Palestra and Franklin Field will replace ugly parking lots and link the current campus with the newly acquired lands. We envision a new sports and recreation park east of Franklin Field that will unite welcoming outdoor gathering places with our legendary sports facilities to create a lively athletic and recreational district.

Two buildings that will increase access rank high among our campus development and fundraising priorities: an athletics field house to serve the new sports district, and a stunning new College House on Hill Square. The new College House—the first to be designed to support the College House vision of a 24/7 learning community—would expand campus housing options and amenities, enrich the undergraduate experience and serve as a vibrant anchor for the Hill Square neighborhood at 34th and Walnut.

If you had to name a signature landmark that unifies our campus, Locust Walk probably comes first. Imagine a family of pedestrian arteries that foster ever closer connections from campus toward the Schuylkill River. Watch Locust Walk extend through the new athletic complex and fields. Take the Walnut Street Bridge walkway through a bustling neighborhood of retail, housing, and academic/research buildings. Witness the rebirth of South Street Bridge as a cultural and health-sciences gateway. And use a new pedestrian bridge to cross the river from the gleaming medical complex and recreational fields.

Connecting to Improve our Region. Viewed Penn-centrically, this vision is extremely exciting. But the impact we have in mind extends far beyond Penn. We are channeling our economic strength as the region’s largest private employer into a rising tide of innovation and opportunity that lifts all boats throughout the greater Philadelphia region.

By creating a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood to the east, we will jump-start business development, tourism, and home ownership in our University City neighborhood while putting a charge into emerging development along the Schuylkill River. Equally important, each new project will give existing arts and culture resources the opportunity to become stronger economic and community magnets.

Today, for example, the drive into West Philadelphia via the crumbling South Street Bridge is the opposite of uplifting. The view of our world-renowned University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and picturesque arches of Franklin Field is marred by asphalt parking lots, rail lines and snarled traffic. But nothing that unsightly needs to last forever. The bridge can be made over into a green gateway bordered by walking paths and street-level athletic fields. With plentiful and accessible parking hidden below bridge level, you would be able to quickly return on foot to explore the cultural treasures of our majestic Museum, or walk south toward the hospitals and a medical complex featuring the state-of-the-art Ruth and Raymond Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine (designed by Rafael Viñoly) and new research and office facilities along the Schuylkill River.

All the while, you will be able to enjoy the sight of ball games on adjacent fields, throngs of pedestrians along paths and boardwalks, and boats cruising up and down the river.

A few blocks north, the Walnut Street entrance to West Philadelphia currently is a strikingly lifeless stretch of nondescript buildings and empty spaces. After Walnut Street’s transformation into a “living and learning” corridor, a pedestrian walking west on the bridge from Center City will be greeted by a colorful 24/7 neighborhood of research buildings, restaurants, cafes, retail stores, and arts and culture venues.

In short, Penn’s eastern campus development will be the magnet that pulls Center City’s vibrant energy westward toward the renaissance already underway in our neighborhood. Penn is generating more jobs and business development opportunities with soon-to-open mixed-use housing developments at 34th and Chestnut and 40th and Chestnut, and another planned for 39th and Walnut. We are working on ways to give local merchants and applicants optimal access to these opportunities.

Will it take time to fully realize our bold plans for Penn’s future? Without a doubt. Penn’s last major expansion, which transformed Penn into a great 20th century university, was decades in the making. With Penn Connects we begin an historic new chapter in Penn’s development.

Stay tuned for news as Penn Connects begins unfolding on campus and beyond. Our Penn researchers, I’d venture to bet, will set a new nanotechnology speed record before long. However fast the intellectual currents travel through our community of scholars, Penn will have the premier urban campus we need to spark ever stronger connections that improve our region, nation, and world.

Share Button

    Leave a Reply