In a city struggling for some good news, it was welcome timing for the University of Pennsylvania to announce plans to spend $40 million to convert 14 acres of bleak asphalt lots into a green space complete with park land, athletic fields, and tennis courts.
The area targeted for the makeover is located along the Schuylkill between Walnut and South Streets. The space - to be known as Penn Park - is now a parking lot once used by the U.S. Postal Service.
When complete in 2011, the space will combine with existing athletic fields to create a 24-acre park. It's not often a public open space crops up in the middle of an urban jungle. The park should beautify an ugly stretch along the river and serve as a green jewel connecting West Philadelphia to Center City.
The park is the centerpiece of the university's 30-year master plan first unveiled in 2006, called "Penn Connects."
The plan is a continuation of Penn's efforts over the last decade to break down the walls - both physical and psychological - that the university erected in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the 1990s, Penn launched an effort to spruce up the streets surrounding its campus, opening a hotel and attracting restaurants and shops. The university offered employees incentives to buy homes near the campus and partnered with the Philadelphia School District to start an elementary school in West Philadelphia.