Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Entry #5: West Philadelphia

West Philadelphia is yet another section of our City of Neighborhoods. Although there are no official boundaries to this area, it is considered to be located between the Schuylkill River to the west, City Line Avenue to the north, and Cobbs Creek to the south. Like most neighborhoods of Philadelphia, West Philly is very diverse in that more than seven different nationalities are represented. Blacks represent the largest population of people living in West Philly with close to 75% of the area, but many other races make up the remaining 25%.

The majority of homes in West Philadelphia are row houses. These houses were originally built by contractors whose goals were to make adequate-sized homes while taking up less lot space in order to fit more homes. Today, these connected houses contribute to tight-knit neighborhoods and streets within the West Philly community. The residents are able to maintain good relationships among one another and help to protect each other from crime.

Transportation is also important to West Philadelphia residents. Many of SEPTA’s regional rail lines offer easy access to those needing to travel throughout the Philadelphia area. Also, trolleys are available throughout most of the streets found in this neighborhood. However, the most important transportation line through West Philly is found above ground. Nicknamed the “El”, this elevated subway rail links West Philadelphia to many other neighborhoods in the city. It is most often used by residents who need to get to work and students who attend school at one of the city’s many universities.

University City, the easternmost portion of the West Philadelphia neighborhood, provides a fairly stark contrast to the rest of the neighborhood. Located between the Schuylkill River and 50th street to the east and west, Spring Garden St. and Powelton Ave. to the north and Civic Center Blvd, Woodland Ave, and University Ave to the south, the region contains a large population of young adults, as is suggested by its name. Encompassing Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, University City was christened in the mid 1950s in an effort to encourage Penn faculty to live in the nearby historic Victorian homes. Today, it is an up-and-coming area, but is still surrounded by some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. However, the University of Pennsylvania is working with the community to help rebuild the area.

Located at 34th and Girard encompassing the site of William Penn’s grandson’s house, the 42 acre Philadelphia Zoo is a major landmark in the West Philadelphia neighborhood. Though the charter establishing the Zoological Society of Philadelphia was approved on March 21, 1859, the zoo’s opening was delayed due to the Civil War. But on July 1, 1874 America’s first zoo, housing just 813 animals, opened to over 3000 visitors, each adult paying only 25 cents. Today, the Philadelphia Zoo welcomes about 1.1 million visitors a year (making it one of Philadelphia’s most popular attractions) and houses more than 1300 animals. Popular exhibits today include the PECO Primate Reserve, the Channel 6 Zooballoon, the Carnivore Kingdom, and Bank of America Big Cat Falls.

Photo Credits: Taylor Duscha and Victoria Tatum

Writing Credits: Dan Weick and Barbara Cushig


Hughes, S. (1997, November 13). The West philadelphia story. The Philadelphia Gazette, 96(2), Retrieved on November 29, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/1197/philly.html

(1963). West Philadelphia: The genesis of “the city across the river.” Retrieved on November 28, 2009. Retrieved from: http://www.uchs.net/Rosenthal/wphila.html

(2009). About America's first zoo. Retrieved on November 29, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/about/AboutZoo.htm

(2009). About University city. Retrieved on November 29, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.universitycity.org/about_ucity