There’s a word out there that’s used a lot these days, derogatorily, to describe new real estate or infrastructure projects, and that word is “ambitious.” California’s high-speed rail project is “ambitious.” Plans to revitalize downtown Detroit are “ambitious.” A new super-tall skyscraper in the United States? Very “ambitious,” indeed.
The implication, of course, is that such plans are out of scale with today’s economy, needs, public opinion and/or alignment of the planets. These plans are simply not likely to come to fruition. California’s high-speed rail project has come to a halt due to California’s sudden realization that it does not have any money to pay for it. Detroit is still a hole, and the title of the world’s tallest building will likely not return to the United States in the foreseeable future. (Then again, anyone who builds a 2,723-foot tower in the middle of the desert is probably compensating for something.)
That is why the draft of the Drexel Master Plan is so interesting. It completely changes the fabric of the north side of University City. It has the potential to turn Drexel from a depressing, dreary campus with more concrete than green space into a much more livable community. It is — in the original sense of the word — ambitious.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Here are some of the planned changes over the next few years: the new LeBow College of Business building, the URBN Center, new buildings in between MacAlister Hall and Chestnut Street, renovation of the Armory into a recreational venue, and a few new residence halls.
These are all just short-term plans. Long-term plans include decking over the Powelton Yards east of campus and putting up a massive load of buildings, several new high-rises between 30th Street Station and the campus, and other large developments that will make Drexel into a modern, livable campus. The Drexel I see in the architectural renders looks like some kind of futuristic utopia, full of happy, perpetually young and enthusiastic people going about their daily activities with a sense of purpose and motivation. It’s like Brave New World, only significantly less morally objectionable.
This brings us back to “ambition.” What makes this campus expansion project different from other large real-estate projects that have fallen through in the past? Is the plan even practical or implementable? Some parts may not be. For instance, I cannot see the CSX railroad ever giving up the West Philadelphia Elevated for the University to turn into an elevated park like the renders suggest, because that is the only access trains have to the Port of Philadelphia.
However, the rest of the plan is very sound, and I believe it will be implemented out of necessity more than anything. Drexel admitted a huge number of students this year. Towers Hall is already at 150 percent occupancy, and feels like a crowded Soviet tenement block on the best of days. If the University plans to keep admitting students at its current rate, it will have to continue to expand its facilities at a proportional rate or experiment with capsule residence halls. (I do not think capsule residence halls would be a great selling point.) What fuels Drexel’s expansion is not ambition, but necessity, which is why I have confidence that these projects will succeed.
There is a catch, of course, and that is that most of these new facilities will not even be finished by the time the current freshman class graduates. We can, however, rest easy knowing that our massive tuition costs are paying for the next generation’s education.
Justin Roczniak is a freshman majoring in civil engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]