Rodin: “Cities are where the action is”

INITIATIVES/Penn launches an urban institute to address problems and potential of city living

By 2006, the world’s urban population will reach 6 billion. A new center at Penn plans to devote extensive resources to studying the well-being of these city dwellers and the urban environments in which they live.

The Penn Urban Research Institute will serve as a hub for urban research, education and practice, bringing together faculty from Penn’s 12 schools, including medical professionals, social workers, educators and city planners.

The creation of this umbrella organization was celebrated March 4 in Meyerson Hall with a speech by President Judith Rodin CW’66 that centered on Penn’s own involvement in enriching the surrounding neighborhood through careful planning and thoughtful policies. In the past decade, Penn has partnered with the West Philadelphia community to improve streets, schools, housing and businesses. Rodin stressed that this successful rejuvenation is only the beginning of Penn’s leadership role in urban studies.

“Cities are where the action is, and will be for the foreseeable century,” despite a worldwide increase in urban problems such as crime, illiteracy and racial tension, said Rodin.

“By addressing these problems creatively—and now—Penn can help to shape the future of urbanism and promote the future viability and vitality of cities.” The emergence of the University-wide urban institute, added Rodin, illustrates how “Penn’s identity and our academic mission are now deeply linked to urbanism and to the future of cities.”

While specific programs and areas of interest will be decided after a faculty retreat on April 30, the new institute will encourage both national and international urban research and practices, as well as expand existing programs, according to Eugenie Birch, professor of city and regional planning, and one of the new center’s co-directors.

The other co-director, Susan Wachter, the Richard B. Worley Professor of Financial Management and professor of real estate, finance and city and regional planning at Wharton, added that this international approach is integral to fully understanding the specific forces that can affect a city or region.