University City is the easternmost part of West Philadelphia. The University of Pennsylvania has long been the dominant institution in the area and was instrumental in coining the name “University City” as part of a 1950s urban-renewal and gentrification effort. Today, Drexel University and the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia also call University City home. The eastern side of University City is home to the Penn and Drexel campuses, several medical institutions, independent centers of scientific research, 30th Street Station, and the Cira Centre. The western side contains Victorian and early 20th-century housing stock and is primarily residential.
University City’s boundaries, as defined by the non-profit University City District organization and the City of Philadelphia, are the Schuylkill River to the east; Spring Garden Street, Powelton Avenue, and Market Street to the north; 52nd Street to the west; and Woodland Avenue, University Avenue, and Civic Center Boulevard to the south. Within these boundaries are the local neighborhoods of Cedar Park, Garden Court, Spruce Hill, Squirrel Hill, Powelton Village, Walnut Hill, and Woodland Terrace. The boundaries also encompass several historic districts and the ZIP codes 19104, 19139, and 19143.
University City has a history of strained town and gown relations, particularly with Penn, the city’s largest private employer and the second-largest private employer in Pennsylvania. Since the 1960s, Penn has led a series of gentrification and redevelopment programs that have changed the character of the area. Some locals call this “Penntrification” or “McPenntrification”, names meant to suggest that the efforts benefit only those with a relationship to Penn. Some, including local anarchists, believe Penn’s actions divide the community. Opened in 2001, the Penn Alexander public elementary school, which Penn helped to build and subsidizes, is closed to students outside its “catchment”. The Penn Mortgage program is available only for homes purchased within Penn’s definition of the boundaries of University City. The university is also an active participant in branding the area as “University City”, with its logo showing up next to the name on signs and bridges (not including street signs directing to University City, which are erected by the city, state, and federal governments).