Named for three major learning centers, the University of Pennsylvania, University of the Sciences and Drexel University, University City is also home to world-class hospitals (Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) and scientific and medical research centers – it just might be the brainiest area in Philadelphia. Of late, the neighborhood has also seen a healthy number of start-up businesses, due in large part to the presence of so many professors and recent graduates able to provide fresh talent for these fledgling companies. To give a sense of just how active this part of Philadelphia is, it is said to be the third-largest business district in Pennsylvania.
History would show that the “University City” designation for this neighborhood, more broadly known as West Philly, has generated a bit of controversy. The University City name was devised in the mid 1950s as a way to attract University of Pennsylvania faculty back to the neighborhood as residents. In fact, the school has been particularly active in the past few decades in trying to redevelop parts of the neighborhood. Their efforts appear to be working, even if they have generated some ill will among residents who claim the gentrification of the area is dividing the community.
Now the neighborhood, which also includes such sub-areas as Powelton Village, Squirrel Hill, Spruce Hill and Cedar Park and their big Victorian and Italianate rowhomes, twins and occasional single-family dwellings, attracts university and hospital employees as well as families looking for square footage and architectural detail at a more affordable price than in other parts of the city. Of course, with the presence of the universities comes investors looking to make money from student housing, so some areas have quite a few multi-unit properties.
The universities are a big part of the cultural life of the neighborhood. Among the many attractions are galleries such as Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Art and Museum for Archaeology and Anthropology; theaters such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center, a leading venue with over 100 performances annually; and Penn’s WXPN radio station, home of the World Café Live which presents a wide variety of artists.
University City is walkable from Center City. Nearby 30th Street Station is the city’s Amtrak train station and also offers regional SEPTA train service. On-street parking can be easier to find here compared to other city neighborhoods, though that certainly is not true in the immediate university campus areas.
Learn more about University City here at the neighborhood association’s web site.