Drexel’s longstanding commitment to improving conditions in the West Philadelphia neighborhoods of Powelton Village and Mantua is no longer just a local effort. The community received welcome news Jan. 8 when the White House announced that President Barack Obama had designated an area including these neighborhoods and all of Drexel’s main campus as one of the nation’s first five Promise Zones. Drexel was involved in writing the proposal for the Promise Zone designation, and now the University will be directly involved in many of the federally funded initiatives to improve the neighborhood.
The Editorial Board is thrilled to know that Drexel will now be able to do even more than it has been to make our surrounding neighborhoods safer, better educated and less impoverished. President John A. Fry launched several neighborhood improvement initiatives in less than four years in office. Fry’s agenda is not one of gentrification but one that seeks to provide more resources to the community’s existing residents. The Promise Zone program shares this goal and already has Drexel designated as a partner in planned education initiatives.
It seems like this situation will be a win for all parties involved, as the support from the federal government will bolster the work that the University has already been doing to improve the surrounding neighborhoods. For students, this news means that there will soon be more civic engagement opportunities in University City. For Powelton Village and Mantua residents, this means that there will be more training opportunities that will eventually lead to permanent employment. Everyone will benefit from an increased focus on safety in the area.
The Promise Zone will directly better the economic situation of Mantua and Powelton Village residents through a job training program and the addition of a large suburban-style supermarket. The area north of campus and west of the Schuylkill River is close to being a food desert. Right now, residents (most of whom do not own cars) must travel to The Fresh Grocer or Supreme Shop n Bag west of 40th Street for access to affordable groceries. The new supermarket, built with public assistance, will put an end to that as well as directly provide a few jobs. There will also be a new job training and adult education program to make residents more competitive in the job market as well as a program to improve access to small-business loans for entrepreneurs in the Promise Zone.
One of the main goals for the Promise Zone initiative is to improve high-quality education to prepare children for careers through partnerships with Drexel and the William Penn Foundation. The aim is to make middle and high schoolers focused on college readiness, increase parent engagement, better develop school cultures, and enhance teacher professional development. This is another great way for Drexel to give back to the surrounding community while creating more civic engagement opportunities for students.
Improving safety in the Promise Zone will reap numerous benefits for all. By preventing and reducing crime, the area will become more attractive to new residents, businesses and long-term investors, boosting the area’s economy. The community will also be made safer for the youth of the area and for college students. Several strategies will be utilized to achieve this goal, including focused deterrence, hot-spot policing and increased foot patrols.
This project is a welcome investment to our West Philly community. We know that having two universities in the area must be disruptive to the neighborhoods that existed here before we did, and the combination of federal funds and an increased focus on the zone will nicely complement Drexel’s own plans for the area. If those involved in the undertaking are able to avoid the follies of politics and the project comes to fruition according to plan, Drexel students and our West Philly neighbors will be better off.