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.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

DC, Universities and "making versus taking" or universities that add to a community's capital and those that don't

Earlier in the week, the Washington Post ran an article, "How many colleges and universities operate in DC?," about the rise of universities from elsewhere in the US opening programs in DC and how this benefits the city.

Featured examples include the University of California Washington Center (pictured at left) and the proposal by Johns Hopkins University of Baltimore (which already has a center offering a variety of degree programs in Dupont Circle; plus their health system owns a hospital in the city) to buy the Newseum, a grand building on Pennsylvania Avenue close to the Capitol and the National Mall, for the relocation and unification of their programs into one facility.

I've written in the past about how DC has lots of universities but doesn't really get the maximum economic benefit from them, at least in terms of their sparking new business development and economic activity.

-- "Better leveraging higher education institutions in cities and counties: Greensboro; Spokane; Mesa; Phoenix; Montgomery County, Maryland; Washington, DC," 2016
-- "Naturally occurring innovation districts | Technology districts and the tech sector," 2014

And about universities, urban revitalization, and urban planning more generally:

-- "Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?," 2016
-- "AJC series on Historically Black Colleges and Universities," 2018
-- "Speaking of planning for higher education: more on the University of the District of Columbia," 2012

including a couple pieces on College Park, Maryland, home of the University of Maryland College Park:

-- "College town follow up: alumni as residents and contributions to community capital," 2015
-- "More Prince George's County: College Park's militant refusal to become a college town makes it impossible for the city(and maybe the County) to become a great place," 2015
-- "Revisiting past blog entries: College Park as a college town and economic development | PG County and Amazon," 2018

That's because the schools and programs that tend to generate the most economic activity--business, engineering, computing--aren't necessarily that great.

And the health programs--Georgetown, George Washington, and Howard all have medical schools--aren't major research and health science technology development powerhouses compared to counterparts elsewhere.

For years, I wrote that not one DC based university was a member of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (Georgetown joined a few years ago and I guess that must have spurred the University of the District of Columbia to join too) and none really have great urban studies programs.  For awhile only UDC had an urban planning program.  Now it doesn't, but GWU, Georgetown and CUA have programs.

By contrast, other cities smaller, less well located, and "less prestigious" than DC have recognized the value in focusing on higher education as a revitalization and economic development tool and they're doing a better job of it.

JHU's major university center in DC is based at 1740 Massachusetts Avenue NW.

My argument about the "Washington semester" and degree programs, and centers (mostly about politics) being set up in DC by non-DC universities isn't about adding to the city as much as it is about benefiting or taking from it.

It's along the lines of my cultural planning writings which differentiate between arts organizations promoting "arts production" by which they add to, extend, and build the arts ecosystem and focus on producing art created by living artists versus promoting "arts consumption" or the presentation of arts and culture to audiences of works usually produced elsewhere, often by people no longer living.

Or as can be extrapolated from the piece "College town follow up: alumni as residents and contributions to community capital," universities based elsewhere but with programs in the city aren't likely to contribute much to community capital UNLESS they specifically create programs and initiatives to do so.

One example is how Kent State University's architecture school has an urban design studio in Cleveland, where the students are engaged in a variety of community-serving projects the the school's Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative.

(For a long time, HUD had a program to foster the development of such programs by universities, although no university in DC seems to have availed themselves of the program.  CUA's architecture school does a fair amount of urban design studio work by students on projects in the city.  To its credit, University of Maryland's planning and architecture school does a fair amount of projects in DC too.)

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