March 7, 2007

The University and Urban Revival Out of the Ivory Tower and Into the Streets

By: Judith Rodin

“In this landmark book, Judith Rodin has brilliantly captured the excitement and adventure of the urban revolution she led as president of the University of Pennsylvania. What she accomplished in Philadelphia is a shining example for other great urban universities.”—Andrea Mitchell, Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, NBC News

In the last quarter of the twentieth century, urban colleges and universities found themselves enveloped by the poverty, crime, and physical decline that afflicted American cities. Some institutions turned inward, trying to insulate themselves rather than address the problems in their own backyards. Others attempted to develop better community relations, though changes were hard to sustain.

Spurred by an unprecedented crime wave in 1996, University of Pennsylvania President Judith Rodin knew that the time for urgent action had arrived, and she set a new course of proactive community engagement for her university. Her dedication to the revitalization of West Philadelphia was guided by her role not only as president but also as a woman and a mother with a deep affection for her hometown.

“The incredible change that the University of Pennsylvania experienced under Judith Rodin’s tenure mirrored that of the city of Philadelphia’s. As Penn transformed the face of West Philadelphia and helped the city meets its educational and economic challenges, the city itself became more livable and a better place. President Rodin’s reach not only transformed a great university but helped in the revival of one of American’s oldest and proudest cities.”—Edward G. Rendell, Governor, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and former Mayor, City of Philadelphia

The goal was to build capacity back into a severely distressed inner-city neighborhood—educational capacity, retail capacity, quality-of-life capacity, and especially economic capacity—guided by the belief that “town and gown” could unite as one richly diverse community.

Cities rely on their academic institutions as stable places of employment, cultural centers, civic partners, and concentrated populations of consumers for local business and services. And a competitive university demands a vibrant neighborhood to meet the needs of its faculty, staff, and students. In keeping with their mission, urban universities are uniquely positioned to lead their communities in revitalization efforts, yet this effort requires resolute persistence.

During Rodin’s administration (1994-2004), the Chronicle of Higher Education referred to Penn’s progress as a “national model of constructive town-gown interaction and partnership.” This book narrates the challenges, frustrations, and successes of Penn’s campaign, and its prospects for long-term change.

Judith Rodin became President of the Rockefeller Foundation in 2005. She is President Emerita of the University of Pennsylvania and previously served as provost of Yale University. She has coauthored many books and was the coeditor (with Stephen P. Steinberg) of Public Discourse in America: Conversation and Community in the Twenty-First Century, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

“At a time when many urban academic institutions raised fences and erected buildings with forbidding walls to protect their staff and students from encroaching crime, the University of Pennsylvania and President Judith Rodin questioned how this approach would benefit the institution in the long run. Rodin’s account of the university’s ground-breaking initiatives to embrace and reinvigorate the surrounding neighborhood shows how anchor institutions must operate in the 21st century if they are to remain competitive.”—Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League and former Mayor, City of New Orleans


University of Pennsylvania Press »

Bring our latest initiatives, publications and events to your inbox.