The announcement last month of Drexel University’s draft master plan (by the Boston firm Goody Clancy) was a purposely subdued event, a presentation only to interested parties, with documents only later released publicly on the master plan blog.
What a treasure trove of documents they are! Three PowerPoints–a vision, a strategy, and implementation–show how, for the next three decades, Drexel is planning–and planning big. Gone are the parking lots around 30th Street Station. Gone, the excessive grass lots and naked service bays interspersed throughout campus; gone, the wasteful, suburban-style retail at its fringes: Firestone, 7-11, I’m looking at you. And in the future, Drexel wants air rights development over the vast field of trackwork and coaches that is the Powelton Yards.
It is not a perfect plan. A crush on the High Line presents itself as an utterly impossible project. (You try to tell Norfolk Southern, CSX, and Canadian Pacific they can do without their primary port lead and only double-stack-capable route through the city, or tell Drexel just how much it costs to build an urban rail bypass–warning: epic PDF.) Much–too much, possibly–of it is predicated on the materialization of market-rate development. But it makes the right gestures–toward infill, toward filling the holes the Brutalist buildout left, toward linking the campus with its neighbors.
Key to this linking is the beautification of the routes around, and through, campus. In the past such beautification efforts might have been limited to the main quad. Not here, though: not only does the main quad get a makeover, but so does every major route–Lancaster Walk, Woodland Walk, 32nd Street–and even streets that actually host traffic, such as Market and JFK. These beautification projects are key to the core vision of the plan: that “University buildings will embrace and enliven city streets” (emphasis theirs) and that Drexel will interlink with its neighbors and Center City as a broader whole to be part of a “regional economic engine.”
Thankfully, the parking lots are going away, the one at 30th and Chestnut being replaced by a new engineering school, the one at 30th and JFK a long-sought hotel, the north side of JFK a stretch of solid urbanization. Thankfully, underperforming buildings are being augmented, if not replaced completely: Hess Laboratories, Disque Hall, Myers Hall, and so forth. Unfortunately, however, all these changes can’t come soon enough, for it is neither just the improvement of buildings’ street relations, nor just streetscape improvements–but rather a combination of the two–that will create the desired urban, interconnected campus.