In twenty-first-century American cities, policy makers increasingly celebrate university-sponsored innovation districts as engines of inclusive growth. But the story is not so simple. In University City, Laura Wolf-Powers chronicles five decades of planning in and around the communities of West Philadelphia’s University City to illuminate how the dynamics of innovation district development in the present both depart from and connect to the politics of mid-twentieth-century urban renewal. Drawing on archival and ethnographic research, Wolf-Powers concludes that even as university and government leaders vow to develop without displacement, what existing residents value is imperiled when innovation-driven redevelopment remains accountable to the property market.
The book first traces the municipal and institutional politics that empowered officials to demolish a predominantly Black neighborhood near the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University in the late 1960s to make way for the University City Science Center and University City High School. It also provides new insight into organizations whose members experimented during that same period with alternative conceptions of economic advancement. The book then shifts to the present, documenting contemporary efforts to position university-adjacent neighborhoods as locations for prosperity built on scientific knowledge. Wolf-Powers examines the work of mobilized civic groups to push cultural preservation concerns into the public arena and to win policies to help economically insecure families keep a foothold in changing neighborhoods.
Placing Philadelphia’s innovation districts in the context of similar development taking place around the United States, University City advocates a reorientation of redevelopment practice around the recognition that despite their negligible worth in real estate terms, the time, care, and energy people invest in their local environments—and in one another—are precious urban resources.
Pictured on the book's cover is a luncheon on Melon Street between 37th and 38th Streets in West Philadelphia, May 31, 2014. The community meal was part of Funeral for a Home, a project that honored the life and passing of a house at 3711 Melon Street in Mantua. Photo by Jeffrey Stockbridge. Funeral for a Home was commissioned by Temple Contemporary, Temple University. Original support for Funeral for a Home was provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Philadelphia.
Introduction. A Twice-Cleared Place
Chapter 1. The Black Bottom and the Birth of University City
Chapter 2. West Philadelphia’s Great Society
Chapter 3. Plans on the Ground
Chapter 4. The Contradictions of Inclusion
A Note on Sources
Laura Wolf-Powers is Professor of Urban Policy & Planning, City University of New York Hunter College.
"University City is a significant addition to scholarship concerning innovation districts, megaprojects, citizen participation, and the role of universities in urban redevelopment...and offers an excellent foundation for future comparative research."
~Journal of Urban Affairs
"The book’s appeal and approach are interdisciplinary: it speaks to urban planning, uses historical and ethnographic research and engages with topics like power, stigma and local political processes that are relevant to political science, sociology and geography...[Wolf-Powers] challenges universities to attend to the historical events that have shaped their surroundings, where wealth, income, access to education and power are unequally distributed."
"A powerful interrogation of the ‘innovation district’ as the dominant urban planning model in today’s knowledge economy. Laura Wolf-Powers takes us back to the origins of innovation in West Philadelphia but brilliantly draws our attention to the nonfinancial visions of development created by local residents that have been lost to the planning focus on real estate values. By tracking the enduring harms of past development decisions, University City makes a compelling case for placing reparations at the center of urban planning."
~Davarian L. Baldwin, author of In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower
"A long overdue critical look at university-driven urban development in a contemporary knowledge and innovation economy. Laura Wolf-Powers masterfully situates the rise of innovation districts as an outgrowth of the failures of mid-twentieth-century urban renewal policies and practices, specifically. She demonstrates how the emergence of coalitions of public-private interests pursue innovation-driven development, often in tension with legacy communities and predictably at the expense of more equitable and inclusive urban revitalization. This book will be an essential read for scholars who want to understand the changing dynamics of urban growth coalitions."
~Sheila Foster, Georgetown University
"Laura Wolf-Powers offers a powerful, forthright accounting of what is owed to urban communities sacrificed for ‘innovation district’ redevelopment—in the twenty-first century as much as the 1950s–60s. Her telling of the story from the community’s perspective is masterful, rooted in rigorous archival research, economic analysis, and direct observation. She delivers profound insights about what residents value, and how universities’ unquestioning pursuit of ‘innovation’ created precarity among their neighbors. University City will enable clearer, more grounded, more searching understandings for all of us implicated in these contests."
~Randall F. Mason, University of Pennsylvania
Winner of the Art & Architecture Book Award, granted by the Athenaeum of Philadelphia