For some colleges & universities, “the city is our campus”

After my recent trip to Savannah, Georgia, I wrote about the important role the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) has played in the development of that city of 142,000. Since the college was established in 1979 with a $200,000 loan and a run-down building, SCAD has revitalized 67 derelict buildings throughout Savannah, essentially making the city its campus. The story is told in an article called “The Empire SCAD Built” in the Savannah Morning News:

SCAD quickly bought up the priced-to-move schoolhouses, vacant homes and dilapidated office buildings that were rotting away downtown and developed its campus. Each time there was a controversy, SCAD restored a historic building. For every detractor, there was someone to praise SCAD’s community service. It wasn’t long before SCAD had conquered the negative with the power of historic preservation and a very profitable, carefully crafted, high-class art world image. “They brought us film, stage and amazing restoration downtown. Worthless property is now priceless,” said Dr. Paul Bradley, a Savannah native who chairs SCAD’s Board of Trustees. “The rise of SCAD definitely coincides with the revitalization downtown.” (Savannah Morning News)

The University of Pittsburgh has also engaged in community development projects. Earlier this week, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article celebrated the civic legacy of outgoing University of Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg:

Mr. Nordenberg’s appointment of a vice chancellor to handle external relations and community initiatives — G. Reynolds Clark —has brought university leadership to projects driven by Oakland institutional and neighborhood partners: the creation of Schenley Plaza, the redesign and renovation of the Boulevard of the Allies bridge and portal, and enhanced pedestrian safety features in the business corridor. The university’s Office of Community and Government affairs has spearheaded outstanding United Way support, including one of the largest Day of Caring contingents in the county, and Pitt hosts many other public service efforts. Pitt’s Make a Difference Day now sends 4,000 students fanning out across the city to perform community service. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

In Philadelphia, Judith Rodin, president of the University of Pennsylvania, led the charge for community revitalization:

Realizing the decline of her city could threaten the well-being of her school, Rodin embarked on a concerted effort to bring safety to her campus. However, it didn’t come in the form of security fences and additional police, but rather through the economic and social revitalization of Penn’s nearby businesses. Today, the university sustains over 57,000 city jobs and $4 billion in wages. The institution thrives, but so too do the neighborhoods around it, thanks to a new way of thinking — and spending.

The local “spend” of a large anchor institution such as a university or hospital can have a massive economic impact on surrounding businesses. Getting these institutions to contract their laundry, trash, and maintenance with nearby companies; or to buy ink cartridges, food for their cafeteria, and T-shirts for their bookstore through local vendors can make all the difference for local businesses, their workforces, and ultimately, that community. (Boston Globe)

That same Boston Globe article points out that Northeastern University in Boston has found an innovative model of its own, a beautiful marriage of university, city hall, and business:

During the recent permitting of Northeastern University’s master plan, district City Councilor Tito Jackson wanted the growth of the university to mean something to the communities he serves, and so he got the school to do something different. Like Penn, Northeastern agreed to significantly increase its local contracts for goods and services. But to overcome the access to financing issue, the university took an even bigger step.

Northeastern set aside $2.5 million to seed an economic development fund that would allow local businesses to expand. Roxbury-based Next Street Financial — which is led by Tim Ferguson, formerly of Putnam Investments, and Ron Walker, formerly of Sovereign Bank — provides the technical assistance, and is also identifying additional investments to grow the fund to $8 million. (Boston Globe)

Closer to home, Brock University is currently involved in a $40 million project to rehabilitate the Canada Haircloth building (constructed in 1885) in downtown St. Catharines. The opening of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts will transform the former textile mill into new facilities for Brock’s Drama, Music, and Art departments. According to the university:

these new facilities will provide state-of-the-art production and workshop support, music practice facilities, art studios, lecture and seminar rooms as well as a versatile stand-alone 235-seat theatre for drama students. (Brock University)

Next door to the complex, the City of St. Catharines is developing a Performing Arts Centre, which will have a concert hall, recital hall, film theatre, and a community dance theatre. This facility will also be used by the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts. Douglas Kneale, the dean of Brock’s faculty of humanities, said “We are witness to the perfect metaphor for Niagara’s industrial past and its post-industrial future.” The site is scheduled to open in May 2015.

In addition to this, the DeDivitiis family is working on a construction project that will result in a residence for 85 Brock students in downtown Thorold. The new three-story structure will be located at the corner of Front & Clairmont streets.

Mayor Ted Luciani told This Week that the addition of nearly 100 students for eight months of the year will be a major boost for the downtown, with Brock students buying groceries and goods, filling prescriptions at local pharmacies and eating in restaurants. “It’s great for the merchants,” he said. (Niagara This Week)

All of the institutions mentioned above are playing an important role in the development of their cities’ neighbourhoods. Is it possible that we might one day see Niagara College and the City of Welland embark on similar regenerative projects for downtown Welland? Could the city one day become Niagara College’s campus?


2 thoughts on “For some colleges & universities, “the city is our campus”

  1. We have repeatedly spoken of a fine art campus downtown Kevin,although there are other options.The old Customs building on King St. is just one of several potential locations.As you already recognize Welland has huge potential just waiting to be developed.Could we not create a state of the art visual depiction to actually showcase a variety of ideas? Given the combined talent and passion I’ve witnessed of late it would not be too difficult a project to undertake.

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