Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Consortium of Washington Universities needs to step up its game

I like reading magazines published for alumni and stakeholders by colleges and universities because you learn interesting stuff.

I came across the magazine for Berea College, an innovative college in Kentucky known for its commitment to educational opportunity (they don't charge tuition and all students have to work during their time at school), integrated education, educating nontraditional students, to international studies, and to "service learning," and a couple of the articles made me think about how DC's universities don't appear to leverage very much their potential power as a network of learning institutions.

They do have a lobbying and coordinating organization called the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Area which lobbies the city on various issues, and has done a couple of good coordinating initiatives so that students can take courses at other universities and there is a common library catalog system called Aladin, which is quite useful. And apparently they have a public safety institute that provides training and assistance to local law enforcement agencies.

Some of the colleges have extensive community service operations (e.g., Catholic University, and the program is derived from their commitment to Catholic ideals about service). Others don't.

(I remember reading something about a professor at Georgetown University thinking some initiative he was doing was particularly great and I thought it was kind of pathetic, given that schools like the University of Michigan [that's where I went] had extensive service-learning programs starting in the 1970s.)

Because of the blog I get contacted from time to time by students (mostly not locally) and for the most part I have been impressed by their efforts. E.g., a class taught by Alice Rivlin at Georgetown did a really great analysis and proposal for the Florida Market, as did a Virginia Tech Alexandria campus student. Another Georgetown class did a video on Uline Arena. But there have been many such projects, most of which I never hear of, and probably have little impact past the day that they are turned in and graded.

Like the UC San Diego program where students make presentations on their senior projects (many of which focus on the area), see "Smart growth, preservation goals missed in practice: UCSD urban studies students report results from senior research work" from the San Diego Union-Tribune, I have thought for awhile that we need to do something similar here, and that we should capture and retain and utilize the various papers and projects that students produce with an annual journal, etc. (blog entry)

I have also commented in the past that only UDC is a member of either the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities or the Coalition of Urban-Serving Universities.

Here are (at least) four cross-university programs that the Consortium could organize:

1. Create a cross-university program for service learning in DC and the abutting areas in Maryland and Virginia;

2. Create a cross-university program in Urban Studies as none of the area's universities offer a decent urban studies program and yes, DC is a city;

3. Create a cross-university "urban design center" comparable to similar institutions in other cities, such as the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative which is the combined home of the urban design graduate program and the public service activities of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design of Kent State University. (In the old days, HUD used to fund the creation of what were called "Community Outreach Partnership Centers" at universities to do similar kinds of work. And the US DOT program of supporting transportation research at universities is another example.)

4. Redefinition of the town-gown relationship, especially as it relates to campus planning processes in the city (see the blog entry, "University campuses, college students, and community organizing").

When I was program manager for the then existing Brookland Main Street program in 2007 I wanted to do a workshop on university-community revitalization and land development efforts but wasn't able to pursue it... Also see the City, Land and the University program of the Lincoln Land Institute.

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