There’s been a lot of talk recently about Drexel spearheading an “Innovation Neighborhood;” that is, a large real estate development dedicated to research and incubating revolutionary startups and other technobabble. It was all somewhat up in the air until very recently, when Drexel launched a new website and issued a Request for Proposals for a developer to partner with them to develop this new neighborhood.
It will occupy several plots of land near 30th Street Station, between the Powelton railyards, 32nd Street and Market Street. This includes the existing One Drexel Plaza and 3101 Market structures, and some large surface parking lots. Expected developments include mainly mixed-use midrise buildings comprising offices, student housing and retail spaces.
That area of campus has always been somewhat blighted and sorely needs some love, but is it too soon to begin parcelling off this land? Drexel also entered into another partnership recently, with Brandywine Realty and Amtrak, to create a master plan for developing the air rights over the Powelton railyards. The architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill was selected to do the heavy design work, and it’s expected that master plan will be completed in two years or so.
With the master plan development underway, isn’t it terribly short-sighted to be developing the Innovation Neighborhood now? There are, for instance, no provisions for future connections to a Powelton railyard development in the Innovation Neighborhood plan. It also makes no provisions for extending the informal Woodland walk corridor, which already stretches through the catercorner Drexel quad, to its natural terminus at 30th Street. These omissions allow for more real estate to be sold, but at the expense of the possibility for green space, and also future expansion.
Furthermore, it has required the relocation of engineering labs in 3101 Market (with essentially no replacements offered at this time, see a previous op-ed published in The Triangle “Dislocation damages engineering clubs”) and will probably disrupt campus life for a decade or more.
However, change is still desperately needed on these few blocks. To create a modern, dynamic urban university, it is paramount to take advantage of the amenities available to us. Though it is easy to cynically say, “Well, the University is just trying to make money through insane real estate ventures,” the fact is that we need our campus to better take advantage of its proximity to a major travel hub and vibrant downtown area.
Though marred by a distinct lack of green space, shortsighted in ignoring the potential of the Powelton railyards, and somewhat callously indifferent in its treatment of the engineering labs it replaced, Innovation Neighborhood will still be an enormous asset to our university for generations to come.