Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Coincidence or not, you decide:

(1) I was in Phillie a few weeks ago, on various sundry missions, and happened to be in and around the U. Penn Campus. I remarked to my traveling companion that "the neighborhood looked better than I remembered."

(2) A while back, I had written about the contraversy between Pitt and the Residents of the Allequippa Housing Project.

(3) In what had to be a fever induced delerium, I found myself wandering around downtown and noticed rubble where there hadn't been rubble before. Turns out that Point Park University is building new dance studios. This sounds similar to what Duquesne University proposed about a year ago.

(4) Yesterday, the WaPo did this article on the transformation of the area around Penn's campus from industrial wasteland to vital retail neighborhood.

This means something... this is important.

Kinda got me thinking: there's a lot of discussion surrounding tech transfer and the ability of the universities to bring products developed to the open market (all of which is good and I'm not criticizing), but aside from the downtown housing component, there has been little discussion, it seems, about the role of universities when it comes to traditional economic development activities.

Of course, it's not the job of the universities to be developers... but it is their job to ensure that the appeal of their environs remain a net positive to students. As Penn discovered, it's hard to attract students when your perceived to be in the ghetto.

[And of course, at least two of the major universities around here have schools that purport to be interested in Public Affairs; you'd think that they'd be able to create a less theoretical and more practicable impact on the economic development community 'round here. Public service? Bollocks! We need more lawyers and consultants!]

So, I guess the question, viz the article on Penn, is the following: how can Pittsburgh Universities be economic development generators with respect to the neighborhoods in which they are located? And, as a follow up, if they are impacting their surrounding neighborhoods, are any of them currently doing it correctly and with respect to the existing conditions?

Off the cuff, I can think of several opportunities:
(1) University employees need housing and receive certain savings in time and transportation costs.
(2) Employees that live nearby will need services.
(3) Captive students need services.
(4) Start up spinoffs need a physical, off campus but nearby, location with adjacent related facilities.
(5) Well travelled public space provides certain security advantages to Universities.

But that's off the top of my head... I'm rusty on my Jane Jacobs. Perhaps I need to go back to University for Economic Development.

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