Dr. Berger to PhillyU: It Ain’t Rocket Science, people (updated 4-1-15)

EastFallsLocal PhillyUs extra meetings text

 This post refers to an ongoing issue outlined HERE.

As was discussed at March’s EFCC meeting, our Working Committee on Philadelphia University’s 30-Year Master Plan was not thrilled by what could be perceived as “some sort of end-run” around the council:  private invitations to select neighbors to meetings held on PhillyU’s campus.

EastFallsLocal secret meetings

Ooh! Closed doors!  What was said? What went down? Who was there..??

Concerned lifetime local (and friend of our blog)  Jonathan Berger attended — he’s got a PhD in planning from U of P,  knows this area like the back of his hand. He has no problem with PhillyU’s growth, in fact, the rough alternative plan he sketched out accommodates ten more buildings than theirs!


Understand: he’s proposing suggestions, not directives. 

With years of experience and a genuine interest in the area, he sized up their plan and sketched out a new “narrative” that can apply to any design, basically: build from inside out, not from outside in.  Re-purpose and rework old designs. Find creative uses for space on top and in between existing structures.

Unfortunately, the proposed new construction along Philly’s property lines will block views, destroy green space and help wall off their students from the rest of our community.

Dr. Berger seems honestly baffled why the University would choose a plan that wastes so much land, when they had a chance to make a name for themselves with something ground-breaking & innovative. Urban quads or connected alleys and creative landscaping, maybe..?

Did they even consider asking their own community for ideas? Dr Berger was shocked to learn that PhillyU’s own Dean of Architecture and Design had not heard of the plan until a neighbor sent him a copy of his letter!


Here are my notes from the meeting — which was a bust. Any suggestion that they would make changes in the plan was met with hostility.

EastFallsLocal Sketch Plan

The so-called Sketch Plan alternative has been received by the U and rejected without discussion. Apparently not a single aspect of this sketch plan had any value to the U’s process or thinking.

According to the U’s representative, any and all discussions the U’s team held between 2010 and 2015 with the community as the U  defines it provide either consent for their plan or at a minimum fulfill their duty to consult with the community.

These discussions led to the conclusion that almost everyone consulted agreed that the softball field at the corner of School House Lane and Henry Avenue is the best location in the entire area for a new building.

The U’s representative stated that most criticisms about or suggestions to improve the plan fell under the heading of  “Not In My Back Yard” complaints.

No meetings were announced with neither the East Falls Community Council, nor its Zoning Committee, nor the small working group to continue the process of consultation.

The only discussion of the impact of the plan on the environment and the community was:

(a) a minor reference to an in-progress traffic study;
(b) the assertion by The VP for development that property values would rise as a result of your plan’s reduction of open space throughout the campus area, and
(c) that the plan intends rather significant changes in the topographic surface in that U proposes to  “nestle in a ravine” the parking garage and will “carve out an amphitheater” on the Warden Drive hill to support a softball field.

There was no discussion or quantitative data given on the impact of the plan on the following areas of concern:  climate, topography, soil, air quality, vegetation, wildlife, hydrology, water quality, passive and active recreation, historic and or aesthetic quality, and land and building values.

As to (b) I asked the VP not to repeat this assertion because I could not find any references in the academic literature to support the notion that a loss of open space in an area like East Falls would increase property values.

The U’s representative stated that no buildings could be built in the center of the main campus because it was too expensive to recharge the storm water runoff from the buildings. In contrast, the cost of recharging water in the area of the proposed parking garage is not cost-prohibitive. This, despite the fact that there is a direct hydrologic connection to the Wissahickon Valley through a well-known and documented intermittent stream and wetlands.



WRITING A NEW NARRATIVE for East Falls and PhillyU — creating a truly innovative community for educators, students and neighbors, all.  If we want this, we can do this.

Let’s figure out what we want, starting with preservation of Green Space, perhaps? All in favor…?


4-1-15 UPDATE:  For more information & additional quotes, please see NewsWorks’ excellent article: “Neighbors Dissent over Philadelphia University’s 20-Year Development Plan”



  1. Great follow up to whats going down over at the U. I would love to hear Philly U’s side of the story but it seems like open discussion isn’t high on their priority list right now.

  2. It is noteworthy that when you visit PhilaU’s web page you learn about the institution’s “sustainability committee” (http://www.philau.edu/plant/sustainabilitycommittee.html). Unfortunately the link provided is dead, and has been for many months. Clearly the University needs to be reminded of their own often stated commitment to sustainability. Is it more than greenwash, President Spinelli?

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