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.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

University-related urban revitalization

The Baltimore Sun has an article, "Baltimore colleges push to improve neighborhoods: Schools now seen as 'anchor institutions' for cities," about university assisted revitalization in Baltimore.  It seems that most of the universities in the city have figured out that if they don't step up and work to improve the areas around their campuses, that this becomes problematic in terms of being able to remain successful.

The article recounts various initiatives by the universities in their neighborhoods, in schools, and in other areas of the city.  Some of the projects are big urban-renewal type projects, like the East Baltimore Initiative by Johns Hopkins University Medical School/Hospital, which is building a bio-medical related complex through the demolishing of a number of housing blocks.

April 2010: JHU Photo TourAnd it doesn't discuss overtly how a few years ago Johns Hopkins built a dorm-classroom building in Charles Village, and moved the college campus bookstore, run by Barnes & Noble, to that building, in turn enlivening the retail offer there--how many neighborhoods have bookstores.

Later the University of Baltimore did something similar, putting their college bookstore on the ground floor of a new apartment building developed on an old parking lot, which abuts a light rail station and is a couple blocks from Penn Station.

University involvement probably matters more in "weak market cities."

DC's universities have never been particularly community focused, although in the 1990s, the Fannie Mae Foundation funded a neighborhood improvement program for LeDroit Park, the neighborhood abutting Howard University.  They built a lot of new infill historically appropriate housing, did streetscape improvements and such.  Had universities gotten more involved (other than neighborhood eradication, like around George Washington University), some areas might have improved more quickly.

Interestingly, Gallaudet University for the deaf, which had a more typical cloistered approach to their presence, is now moving towards a more outward and connective focus and will be doing a number of construction and design projects that open up and connect their campus to the streets and neighborhoods outside.   ("The Big Reveal: Gallaudet's New Building Is Ready In Time For The New School Year" from Curbed DC and "Gallaudet's New Aesthetic of Openness" from the Washington Post -- interestingly, Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf has been more successful at anchoring a permanent community of deaf residents, see "Where Sign Language Is Far From Foreign" from the New York Times.)

I have been interested in leveraging college presence for urban revitalization for a long time in communities large and small, because it turns out that in many communities that are successful today the only thing they have going on is a local university or college.  On the other hand, I've witnessed attempts to move colleges to in-town settings, such as moving the School of Business from the campus of Eastern Michigan University to Downtown Ypsilanti, for revitalization purposes, yet the intended effect was never truly realized.

For a long time I worked on commercial district revitalization in Brookland including a brief street as a program manager for the Main Street program there, and I was particularly interested in how the presence of Catholic University and Trinity University of Washington (along with the Washington Hospital Center about 1.5 miles away) could be better leveraged to help reverse the languishing commercial district on 12th Street NE.

While at that time CUA never did the kinds of things I thought about, like moving the student union and bookstore to 12th Street NE, more recently they have been involved in a redevelopment project of land they own just outside their main campus, the Monroe Market project on Monroe Street, which is across from the subway station in Brookland, which will add almost 900 apartments and significant retail (admittedly separate from 12th Street, and likely over time the retail center of Brookland will shift from 12th Street to the area around the subway station).  CUA also owns land acquired from the Armed Forces Retirement Home on the west side of Harewood Road, which has been suggested could be used for the creation of a engineering and business-related research park.

The Lincoln Land Institute has an initiative for universities and colleges working on related real estate development and improvement programs around their campuses.

And this article, "Case Studies in University Led Neighborhood Revitalization" from Development Concepts Inc. outlines a typology for the types of involvements universities might have.

University of Pennsylvania is one of the leading examples of this kind of revitalization.  In the 1960s, they considered moving to the suburbs from Philadelphia because of the decline of the city. But instead they decided to work to improve West Philadelphia.  The former president of the school, Judith Rodin, has a book on the subject, The University and Urban Revival: Out of the Ivory Tower and Into the Streets.

They also organized the University City District, a Business Improvement District, to coordinate improvements and increased security initiatives.  The UCD is not an assessment-based BID, the members provide very large annual appropriations--it was pointed out to me that the organizational members, nonprofits, didn't want to sign off on a real estate assessment based funding scheme because that would provide a precedent for taxing Philadelphia nonprofits.

In Macon, Mercer University has won acclaim amongst new urbanists for its improvement programs active in abutting neighborhoods ("College Hill: Revitalizing Macon's Historic Neighborhoods," and the webpage on the Beall's Hill Neighborhood Revitalization Program).  Like Penn, Mercer also provides mortgage loans for faculty and staff choosing to live in designated neighborhoods by the campus.

But there are many other examples such as Ohio State's project on High Street (I have some great planning documents on that) and the University of Connecticut's building of a town center for Storrs ("UConn Decides to Build Its Own College Town," New York Times, "Storrs Center Open for Business, as Construction Proceeds," press release from UC).  Closer to home, the University of Maryland's program to build a similar kind of town center in College Park has languished.

Given that universities and hospitals (Eds and Meds) are the only assets left in many towns and cities, urban revitalization efforts and initiatives are going to have to be more focused and knowledgeable about best practices across the country and will have to figure out how to get more universities to step up and invest in community improvement.

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At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

growing up here I always wondered at the silliness of Gallaudet University- now here is a world class choll that was basically surrounded by hard-core ghetto- it did not make any sense that such a place would forever stay isolated or walled in like a Roman villa- monastery in 600 AD afraid of the barbarians outside the walls & gates... with a very affluent are to the south and a burgeoning downtown to the west it could not remian so for long... what I did not get was why they would not at least try to break out - become adventurous and pioneering- especially as the real estate was so friggin' cheap around there for so long- and of course now it is sky- high and unaffordable !!!

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

You left out "The Avenue" and GWU.

Honestly, you have to balance the density/development potential vs. the loss of tax revenue. Not sure if there is a way to effectively tax land being used for "non-educational" purposes.

At 10:41 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

good points.

At 9:59 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Just wanted to drop a quick note about Sea Gull Square @Salisbury University (MD).

I stumbled upon it last year, not having been around there for a long time. I grew up about 15 mi away. This development was striking because you don't see mixed-used development of this scale much in those parts. It sits next to US Rt 13, so it also contributes to revitalization of an old highway strip corridor. It really looks decent and I was really surprised when I saw it.

I would love to see SU as a partner in downtown Salisbury redevelopment.

At 10:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what is weird about Gally U is that there are no bars or bookstores or internet cafes around or proximate to the campus- and most of the students would do their hanging out at the bars on CH much farther away- one would expect at least some commerce on Florida Avenue and maybe 4th or 6th streets but they are and remain no-mans lands

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

1. I haven't ever been to Salisbury, although I get out that way from time to time. U R right that the opportunity for u-connected revitalization is ripe there. I'd happily write a comm. district revit. plan for them as I did for Cambridge, MD.

2. Florida Avenue for the most part, except for a few lots, is zoned almost completely residential in the vicinity of Gallaudet (from 6th St. to 11th).

Of course it is commercial between 2nd and 6th.
Of course

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous Lynn Stevens said...

Another source for info is the book, The University as Urban Developer, published by the Lincoln Institute.

Schools make the investment for various reasons, but all primarily related to recruitment/retention of students (often via parental influence). It depends on the environment what intervention is called for.

At 5:20 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

yeah, I need to read that book. I still haven't.


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