Reflecting on Our 20th Anniversary: A Note of Gratitude from UCD President Matt Bergheiser

Apr 23, 2017 34 days ago

It is said that the only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come. In 20 years, University City and University City District have come a long way.

As UCD celebrates our 20th anniversary in 2017, it is especially meaningful to reflect on our founding principles: community, partnership and possibility.

In 1997, neighbors, businesses and institutions organized under a simple but powerful idea: together, we could make an enduring impact on a place that so many cared about. In our earliest days, this notion was put to the test on issues that defined the very future of the community: grappling with public safety crises; reimagining forlorn commercial corridors; recasting the story of University City to attract businesses and entice residents and consumers.

By every objective measure, this foundational work was a success. The passion and steadfastness of residents, the drive of small business owners and cultural institutions, the vision of anchor institutions and the hard work of the team at UCD and so many other organizations have shaped a neighborhood of choice, exceptional not just in the city and region, but anywhere.

As the neighborhood advanced, UCD and scores of partners applied the same bedrock principles – community, partnership and possibility – to new challenges and budding opportunities. And as we turn twenty, the fruits of these efforts have taken hold. The Porch, neighborhood parklets and the upcoming Trolley Portal Gardens are quintessential UCD endeavors, convening the wishes and the willpower of residents with the commitment of institutions to invent entirely new places and conjure up beautiful green spaces where once there was only uninviting concrete. Project Rehab was similarly born of the will of the neighborhood, in this case to address long vacant and abandoned properties; over time, we galvanized partners to bring more than 100 such dwellings back to the market.

The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative shifted UCD’s approach while reinforcing its values. Asking ourselves how we could contribute solutions to the crisis of economic disconnection, we built bridges to life-changing jobs with our institutional partners. Neighbors come to us in the throes of long-term unemployment; they leave with a path to possibility, and have now earned more than $13 million in wages in the six year run of the Skills Initiative. Finally, Green City Works, started in UCD’s 19th year, magically marries our core tenets together - first, to make University City more beautiful and, second, to connect local residents to opportunity. We employ West Philadelphians who had previously faced stumbles and hurdles in their careers, and they work to further a more green, more vibrant web of public and private spaces across parks, institutions and new development projects. They help us create and sustain a civic infrastructure commensurate with the magnificent commercial infrastructure rising around us.

All the while, University City District continues to double down on our foundation – clean and safe streets, thriving retail corridors, and destination events to drive people and customers to local businesses and attractions. And, all the while, UCD’s foundation of community, partnership and possibility endures, and precipitates new ideas and new approaches. As the neighborhood evolves and advances in ways that could not have been imagined in 1997, what possibilities lie ahead for UCD and for University City? Together, we will continue to explore and act on our highest hopes and aspirations for a decidedly magical place. Please join us in celebration and in collaborative action throughout the year as we honor the past and build the future. And thank you for all you have done to make University City and University City District extraordinary.

Sincerely,

Matt Bergheiser

President, University City District

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