Locust Walk

The Stretch of Locust Street between 38th and 34th Streets on the Penn campus
Philadelphia, PA

Submitted by: Ben Adler

The physical and spiritual center of the University of Pennsylvania campus.

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Why It Works

Lined by large gothic brick buildings, with beautiful red brick designs on the ground, Locust Walk is nothing if not visually impressive. While the grandeur of the architecture (the University of Pennsylvania buildings along Locust Walk are literally sometimes covered in ivy) could be intimidating, the spatial arrangement and pedestrian vitality make it feel almost homey. The buildings were mostly built in the late 1800's, and in the style of the time their entrances face the street and are not set too far back. The only exceptions are the newer academic buildings such as Van Pelt library, which are giant boxes with sideways entrances. Still, on any nice day the Walk, as it is sometimes called, is lined with students promoting events and soliciting petition signatures. Between 36th and 34th streets, it widens into a magnificent view of architectural gems such as the Fine Arts Library (designed by Louis Kahn), and College Hall. Off to the side is College Green where Penn students and area residents relax.

What Makes Locust Walk a Great Place?

Immediate area residents (mostly Penn students) use it frequently for socializing or just as the most pleasant route across campus. It is unavoidable to pass through Locust Walk if one must go across campus from north to south, as the side streets between 37th and 35th Streets go through it. It crosses the significant barrier of 38th Street on a lovely pedestrian foot bridge that seems to rise naturally out of the footpath. The only problem is that north of 38th Street, the street wall that lines Locust is destroyed, and that area is not nearly as nice or well used. Coming from the east side, one must go up a stairway at 34th Street to enter directly, but one can also come up (and this is wheelchair accessible) from the outer southern corner at 34th Street and Walnut Street. One of the advantages and disadvantages of Locust Walk is that one cannot see its dramatic view until one is inside it. That makes its discovery all the more wonderful.

The place makes a striking first impression. There is not much seating provided, mostly it is used for socializing while standing or walking, except for on and next to college green. The area is certainly the safest feeling on the Penn campus. It is lined with tasteful retro lamps that make it exceedingly well lit late at night. By contrast, 38th Street, which is wide, empty and car-oriented, is very uncomfortable, even frightening to walk down at night by oneself. Since cars are not allowed on it at all, one cannot accuse Locust Walk of being dominated by vehicles. There are occasional Penn Police patrols, but they are much less necessary on Locust Walk than elsewhere.

The space is always used at least to walk through, as it is full of major school buildings and fraternity houses. On nice days, it is the main outdoor place to hang out for students. Fraternity members sit in front of their houses, students sit on the steps of school buildings. Students study and socialize on College Green. The tight stretch between 36th and 38th streets is certainly the most intimate, but the only part that really goes unused is the area around Van Pelt library, a modern monstrosity.

People are definitely friendly along the walk. Even when in a hurry, a student cannot go through there without exchanging a number of hellos. People mostly go by themselves, and often hang out with friends they encounter there. Penn students certainly take pride in Locust Walk; it is the heart of their campus. When I visited Penn while in high school, it was the multi-colored image of people hurrying in every direction that reminded of my home in New York City.

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