Can Drexel's splashy $3.5B Schuylkill Yards project make Philly's tech scene more inclusive? - Technical.ly Philly

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Mar. 2, 2016 4:59 pm

Can Drexel’s splashy $3.5B Schuylkill Yards project make Philly’s tech scene more inclusive?

“Inclusion is at the heart of this project,” said Drexel President John Fry. The university hopes to train West Philly's youth for the tech jobs it's attracting to the area.

A rendering of the Schuylkill Yards. This is a view from 30th Street Station.

(Courtesy image)

Drexel and Brandywine Realty Trust announced Wednesday an ambitious, 20-year, multibillion dollar project to transform the area around 30th Street Station into the “Schuylkill Yards.”

The 14-acre development, which includes a public park and eight new high-rises, is a centerpiece of Drexel President John Fry’s vision for an “Innovation Neighborhood,” where tech companies and their employees can live, work and play. (Kind of like what the University City Science Center is doing slightly farther west, but at a larger scale.)

During the flashy, hourlong announcement inside a white tent next to 30th Street Station, Fry rattled off names of tech companies and organizations that call University City home, like DreamIt Ventures, First Round Capital and even young 3D-printing startup Orange Maker, which Drexel helped lure to the East Coast.

While creating a tech hub in University City is clearly the goal, one term kept coming up again and again during the event: “inclusive development.”

“Inclusion is at the heart of this project,” Fry said. “It’s a value, not a side benefit.”

What he means is that Drexel and Brandywine are committed to making the current residents of nearby Mantua and Powelton Village part of the Schuylkill Yards, rather than pushing them out.

The highest skyscraper in this Schuylkill Yards rendering makes the 29-story Cira Centre look miniscule.

The highest skyscraper in this Schuylkill Yards rendering makes the 29-story Cira Centre look miniscule. (Courtesy image)

It’s a bold, public promise for Drexel to make and a somewhat groundbreaking one, at that. At the event, the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz, who’s working with Drexel on the Schuylkill Yards, said Drexel is “setting a new bar for urban universities” with this promise. He later told us that he’s seen inclusive development on a city-wide scale but not on a district-wide level.

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What does inclusive development look like? It’s not entirely clear yet, but one early initiative around this goal is the launch of Science Leadership Academy Middle School, a neighborhood school, at Drexel’s Dornsife Center this fall. (The school is slated to move into the former University City High School site, which Drexel owns and is still being developed. That site is part of the University City Science Center’s $1 billion uCity Square project, another development that has a stated goal of inclusivity.)

Inclusive development is about “investing in every part of the pipeline,” said Lucy Kerman, Vice Provost of University and Community Partnerships at Drexel. The hope, she said, is to educate students from the neighborhood so that they’re ready for the high-tech jobs inside the Schuylkill Yards skyscrapers by the time they’re built.

It’s a big deal to hear an institution like Drexel, which is making an enormous investment in University City, talk about working to make sure that the benefits of the tech scene reach more than just a small few. If it succeeds, this project could help cement Philly’s status as a tech scene that’s known for its diversity and could become a model for other cities to follow.

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