Penn never pretended to be performing public service. Its massive investments in the community, school officials said, were designed to improve the university. It stopped making excuses, fronted the money for projects large and small through good and recessionary times, and got the job done.
At the same time it began making risky forays into real estate, Penn started a public elementary and middle school to attract families and stabilize the neighborhood. It planted thousands of spruce and silver maples along barren sidewalks. It gave faculty and staff cash incentives to buy homes there, and some of its top administrators moved in.
Even now, construction continues, just as it did during the downturn in 2001 and 2002.
"This is not altruism or noblesse oblige," Penn president Amy Gutmann said in a recent interview. "It's the right thing to do because it can make us stronger as well as our community stronger."