Penn's Great Expansion: Postwar Urban Renewal and the Alliance between Private Universities and the Public Sector


With the adoption of the 1948 plan, Penn embarked on the largest expansion in its history. The Great Expansion—a term we use to distinguish this extended period of prodigious institutional growth and improvement from Penn’s first expansion in West Philadelphia at the turn of the twentieth century—was the beneficiary of urban renewal politics and policies in the 1950s and 1960s. Philadelphia’s reformist, pro-growth Democratic leaders and city planners enthusiastically supported Penn’s expansion in West Philadelphia, hailing it as a bulwark against blight and an engine of economic and technological development at a time when Philadelphia’s manufacturing industries had begun a precipitous decline. Philadelphia, like New York and Chicago, looked to its universities to play key roles in the city’s urban renewal plans, and these universities— Penn, Drexel, and Temple—enlisted the city’s help to achieve their expansionist goals. By 1970, the redevelopment properties owned or controlled by Penn made up the lion’s share of land targeted by the Redevelopment Authority of Philadelphia (RDA) for urban renewal in an eighty-block area of West Philadelphia. Penn was by far the dominant urban renewal university in Philadelphia. In fact, it was the nation’s bellwether for this approach; no other higher education institution in the era of federally funded urban renewal (1949–74) made more use of urban renewal instruments or achieved a greater expansion in this period than Penn.