Thursday, March 20, 2014

Will Drexel's Innovation Neighborhood look like this?

Hmm, not sure how to feel about this one yet.

The plan looks awesome and super-possible. But when you look at all of the moving parts involved with a project this impressive, it can be hard to fathom.

On the other hand, John Fry and Drexel have not been messing around in recent years. New buildings, new signage, and new plans. Not only have they done their homework, but they seem to have enough players in place (Drexel, Amtrak, & Brandywine) to get a big part of the project moving forward: Building over the 30th Street rail yards.

If they can pull it off, it may be one of Philadelphia's most impressive developments in it's 300+ year history as a US city.

Drexel now has an extensive double-plan in place for Philadelphia called, "Transforming the Modern Urban University + Drexel University Campus Master Plan." Both plans were recently presented as one, and were the findings of a year-long study to figure out how to best grow Drexel.

For starters, and probably most important, Drexel wants to expand its student population by 1/3 over the next 7 years (from the mid-20,000 range to the mid-30,000 range). Accomplishing this will not only be a boon to University City, but to all of the burgeoning neighborhoods surrounding the university as well.

Not to mention all of the additional jobs, housing, and retail that could/should follow a project of this size/scope.

There are 4 main principles in the Master Plan:

1. Distinguish Drexel's campus as a modern urban university district.
2. Bring the campus to the street.
3. Draw the community together around shared spaces.
4. Expand the innovation community.

Out of all 4 principles, I personally feel that #4 resonates the most for Philadelphia.

Our city has changed greatly in the past 10 years, and it's starting to dictate where the city might be headed in the foreseeable future. I have written posts about "Philacon Valley," as well as dropping an informational perspective on the new Comcast Innovation + Technology Center, and I'm starting to see a pattern.

Philadelphia is preparing itself for the new, urban, compact, shared tech economy.

Location ... check.

Dense city ... check.

Good bones ... check.

Public transportation ... check.

One of the best higher-education systems in the world ... check.

Annual population increases (with lots of millennials) ... check.

Affordable cost-of-living, as compared to local, neighboring metropolises ... check.

These are things people all over the world are interested in today, and it's why major metropolitan areas are growing at a rapid pace across the US. So it only makes sense for Drexel to play off of our city's strengths, and start planning for a future where skyscrapers may in fact sit above railroad tracks at 30th Street Station.

Nothing wrong with dreaming big, Mr. Fry. Keep up the good work.

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