Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Urban Universities Done Right: Chicago’s “Loop U”

Many American cities have focused on university based development as a catalyst for their downtowns and urban spaces. Louisville has promoted the growth of its university affiliated hospital complex on the east side of downtown. Indianapolis and Chicago both built major urban renewal type campuses – IUPUI and UIC respectively. The University of Wisconsin anchors the core of Madison, and similar patterns are repeated in college towns across the country, or in college neighborhoods like Chicago’s Hyde Park.

In my view “eds and meds” is quasi-public sector. Like government offices, they can act as an anchor of sorts, but are more rarely sources of dynamism. Also, while they attract investment and people, the interests of the university are often not aligned with those of the neighborhoods, leading almost inevitably to various town-gown type divides.

One notable exception to the standard pattern is the expanding collection of over 30 downtown Chicago colleges that has become known as “Loop U”. From a Sun-Times story from last year:

When most college students go off to campus for the first time, they typically end up in a dorm overlooking a grassy quad, classroom buildings, or perhaps the football stadium.

Not so at “Loop U,” a nickname for a recent phenomenon that this fall will bring more than 65,000 college students to live and study at more than 30 institutions of higher learning in and around downtown Chicago.

A recent report published by DePaul University says the downtown population of college students has grown 25 percent in just the last five years, making it the “biggest college town in Illinois.”

Unlike traditional campuses, in which the institution owns all the land and every building is a college building, downtown dormitories (and classroom buildings) are interspersed along city streets like Wabash, Michigan and State, blending in with the existing buildings.

I consider Chicago’s Loop U possibly the most successful example of urban university development in America. It has had an almost totally positive impact on the urban fabric of the Loop, and generated zero controversy or negativity. There are a number of elements of this that I think distinguish the Loop U approach in a positive way and make it a model that every city should study.

1. Diversity of institutions. Unlike a large, monolithic institution like Ohio State, there are over 30 different institutions in downtown Chicago. These range from a community college to the School of the Art Institute to Chicago to specialty design and culinary schools, Northwestern University medical school, a branch of DePaul, etc. This diversity has the same effect that Jane Jacobs described for diversity of uses. They bring different types of people to the Loop at different times of the day, and operate on different schedules, contributing to major activity from morning till night. Also, the diversity of institution types means that you don’t have a single profile of student who stands demographically apart from the rest of the city. While perhaps not a perfect match, the students at Loop U collectively look at a lot more like the city’s overall population than the students at most schools.

2. Small Sizes, Urban Form. A typical college campus – like UIC, for instance – is usually a huge tract or superblock site devoted entirely to university activities. The university often takes great pains to establish their perimeter, and even extend control over “buffer zones”. The essence of most schools is that they in some way stand apart from the city.

But with the Loop U institutions, while they are collectively large, most of them are of reasonable size. And they typically inhabit urban buildings that are on the same block with other types of buildings such like any other downtown structure. Some institutions, such as specialty interior design school Harrington College, actually rent space in multi-tenant commercial buildings. Larger schools like Columbia College have many facilities spread all over. Even Northwestern University hospital plays as nice with the urban fabric as any such facility is likely to.

Because land in downtown Chicago is so valuable, it isn’t feasible to acquire a large superblock site. And what land you do have, you need to use efficiently. This has led to a situation where the vast majority of the colleges are integrated with their environment and don’t stand apart from it. That’s a rarity.

This has lots of benefits. For example, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago built a dormitory at Randolph and State. The ground floor houses a Borders Books that is always jammed. The students themselves are frequently hanging out on State St., contributing to the street activity at all hours, and also counteracting the stuffy, sterile business/conventioneer vibe that infects too many downtowns. People see these young artsy types out there and think, “Hey, this place must be pretty cool.”

3. Neighborhood Compatibility. The rarefied intellectual atmosphere of a university often does not speak to or address the concerns of interests of the residents and non-university related businesses in a given area. Things like art galleries can have a limited appeal to those who are more concerned with quality of primary and secondary schools, jobs, crime, traffic, etc.

But the Loop is an upscale business district. This has the advantage that the people who work in the Loop, or who live in the greater central area, are the profile of people who might take advantage of programs and institutions that colleges create for their own students. I think of the Film Center at SAIC, for example, indisputably the city’s premier film venue. What the colleges produce is an amenity and potentially of interest to a far larger percentage of the non-university people in the area than is typically the case.

4. The Practical Arts. Several of the institutions are either arts related, or provide career training in technical fields. I noted Harrington College earlier, but there are many other similar types of schools. Most of these cater to people who already live in Chicago, thus they provide a critical workforce development function for the creative industries in the city. Without these schools, the city’s theaters, design firms, restaurants, etc. would find themselves facing a very different labor force situation.

5. Planting the Flag. The growing prominence of Chicago’s Loop as an educational and cultural center has created a pull whereby it is almost mandatory for area institutions to maintain a point of presence downtown. So DePaul, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, etc. all have facilities in the Loop. This creates connectivity between those institutions and downtown, which is a good thing.

A diversity of institutions, catering to a diverse student body, predominantly small to medium in size, scattered throughout an area, in urban buildings that are part of, not apart from, their surroundings, hopefully featuring a healthy dose of creative and technical fields, and which create open to the public type amenities – that’s the way to do an urban university district right. That’s not to say you can’t have a large medical campus or university campus. There’s a role for those things. But especially in a CBD or near-CBD type district, the Chicago approach to higher education has much to recommend as a development strategy. It’s a model that should be more thoroughly documented and discussed in urbanist downtown development circles.

Topics: Economic Development, Education
Cities: Chicago

43 Responses to “Urban Universities Done Right: Chicago’s “Loop U””

  1. Kevin Richards says:


    Another function that the students of Loop U provide is motivated, creative and inexpensive labor for local non-profits. Many of the Loop U students participate in the federally subsidized Work/Study Program. Over the last three years, I have used several students from the University of Chicago, IIT and Loyola University to help in our development office working at such important tasks as web development, media relations and special events. These students are not filing papers all day or acting as basic office functionaries. They are providing essential tasks that help the day to day operations of our agency while at the same time gaining very valuable work experience and, better yet, confidence in their innate abilities.

    I have seen them grow from very meek freshman to incredibly dynamic and creative problem solvers very much ready to tackle any post-university employment. They have helped us see the world from a much needed vantage point that will help our agency grow in the future. Chicago universities have done a great job of integrating the university academic experience with the real life dynamics of the working world. I only wish that I had had such a blending of the two worlds when I was in college.

    Kevin Richards

  2. John Morris says:

    I can’t understand why Richard Longworth doesn’t get this effect of this huge difference betweeen schools in NYC and Chicago and what happens in most cities.

    A big factor in most cities with too much land and power in relation to their surrounding areas. It might make a lot of sense to not grant schools open ended eminant domain power or even tax them to get them to make better use of land.

  3. John, why do you say Longworth doesn’t get it on this topic? I’m not aware of anything he’s said to indicate that.

  4. John Morris says:

    Well, it’s mostly true he just hasn’t said anything. I’ve made a similar comment on his blog more than once and the Big Ten schools and issues relating to them come up a lot.

    I would think someone who knows both the wider midwest and Chicago well would see this as a big area of difference and something worth looking at.

  5. John Morris says:

    I was wondering if the Loop Schools do a big business in graduate degrees and continuing ed? The general lack of continuing ed programs and non matriculated courses is very different from what I saw in NYC with schools like NYU, and SVA.

  6. Eric M says:

    John Morris:

    I’m not super-familiar with the full extent of offerings in New York, but the downtown schools in Chicago offer just about any sort of coursework you might want. There are continuing education courses at the Chicago City Colleges, but also at most of the private institutions, in everything from medical to legal to business and computing, as well as law schools and at least a half-dozen (probably more) graduate business degree programs.

  7. John Morris says:

    Sounds a lot like NYC. Subway ads there advertise continuing ed from at least 6 major schools–SVA, NYU, The New School/Parsons–I think FIT, Hunter, Etc…

    This does seem very different than Pittsburgh where I have never seen an ad for a non matriculated course. CMU does have some great lecture series, but they don’t exactly promote much outside the school. I’m sure someone can correct me and obviously there are huge grad programs.

    Right now, the only school that really strikes me as integrated and fully urban is Point Park but they are all evolving. Certainly, CMU’s kids want to play a more active role in the city.

    Anyway, continuing ed seems like an area where only urban integrated schools can play a big role. How can a big Ten type school pulled away from where most people live and work do that?

  8. DBR96A says:

    I’d say that the Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood is a good example too, with the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon University and Carlow University all in the same area. Granted, the University of Pittsburgh swings a bigger stick than the other two, but the three have certainly created a second “downtown” in Pittsburgh.

  9. west town ed says:

    A few random and inchoate thoughts:

    The most important is that many of the institutions are outside of the historic Chicago Loop so the term “Loop U” is wrong. I don’t have a better term except something meaningless like “downtown campuses” but there you have it.

    If the schools own the property, the city gains nothing from real estate taxes — ask Evanston.

    The “Great Street” would be “Bleak Street” if schools hadn’t moved into all those vacant multi-story, block-long one-time department stores.

    Minor note: not only did SAIC build a pale imitation of the Reliance Building a block away as a dorm (but hey, Larry Booth tried) but they also restored the 1890s Chicago Building at State/Madison as a dorm.

    Finally, “evil” TIF money…

  10. John Morris says:

    No, I do not think, Oakland is in anyway like what I know is going on in NYC or what seems to be happening with Chicago’s downtown schools.

    Pitt/UPMC is very much a monster in proportion to it’s surroundings.

    Please read the Aaron’s piece again which is mostly about modest size schools scattered throughout the urban core that have not overwhelmed but created organic synergies.

    To some small degree, this is happening right now with CMU–Intel now has an office on campus as do a number of start ups.

    Something like what we are talking about may develop if the total Oakland/Baum/Center East Liberty area is developed right and more school assets are scattered around town.

    Right now, Pittsburgh has the second highest percent of out of town commuters and has failed to develop a private base of residents or businesses to balance and play off the schools. (Look at the tax base problem) This may be starting to change.

  11. John Morris says:

    I think one can make a case that Pittsburgh’s downtown with the emerging Point Park, The Art Institute and nearby Duquesne is developing a new “Loop U” in Pittsburgh in which a group of schools ad lots of residents but don’t overwhelm an urban core.

    Remember the “Loop U” selling point is about “cool urban” living and learning. Oakland, does not sell itself or in anyway try to be a nice place to live. It’s a quasi public, non tax paying job producer….with a big ptential to be more.

    Downtown, Point Park is aggressively building a small urban campus and lots of new dorms. It also, has perfect synergies with the downtown cultural district with strong degrees in Theater, Music, Dance and Journalism. The Art Institute also now has lots of new Dorms. already this has had more affect on the downtown than the much hyped high end housing.

    Likewise, Duquesne has lots of synergistic degree programs that feed and play off the downtown like Law and Business.

  12. John Morris says:

    This is the full text of a post I did about Point Park in 2006–before they had ramped up their urban campus. even then it seemed clear they were more like the schools I knew in NYC and somehow viewed the city differently and better than most of it’s other schools do. Obviously, a big factor is that they are just not big enough to push the city around.

    “Pittsburgh is the home of a solid number of very important colleges. But if someone asked me which one is the most important to the life and future of the city- I would say Point Park. This is because it one of the few schools here that seems intent on embracing it’s location and integrating itself into the fabric of the city.

    New York is a city with dozens of colleges which play a huge role in it’s life. There is Columbia, NYU, Fordham, Pratt Institute, Saint Johns and the huge City University system. There are also tons of smaller schools scattered throughout the city. Parsons, SVA, FIT, Cooper Union, Hunter College, The New School, Juilliard, Baruch College and John Jay are a few. Not surprisingly a lot of these schools have strong specialties in the major “industries of NY” – art, film, media, fashion, theater, music, law, business , design and food. One is sometimes struck, by the rather unassuming nature of some the schools. Few have stadiums, elaborate sports facilities, fancy campuses or massive buildings. Many of the most respected are pretty low key and functional. But looks can be decieving in that few of these schools beg for applicants and degrees from a lot of them are highly valued. A few like SVA, started small but have grown into sizable institutions. A lot of them do a booming and I think lucrative business in continuing education. So what makes these schools so popular and successful.

    What are they selling if it ain’t fancy campuses, winning teams and hot cheerleaders? What these schools got is NY and they have learned to work it. Courses taught by major executives, takeover artist’s, art dealers, former mayors, film or television producers and the like are the norm. Internships with major law firms or media companies are integrated into the deal. This is easy because many of these people live and or work blocks away. These schools have a symbiotic relationship with the city. Their street level harmony with NY feeds the city and the city in turn feeds the schools.

    Few Pittsburgh schools seem to have or want much of a relationship with the city. But Point Park does and is expanding in away that should benefit the school and enhance the life of Pittsburgh. I also like it’s marketing spin which proudly positions itself as an urban school in a great city. I also want to give a shout out to to other schools in the downtown which play a very positive role in the city and have a strong pro-urban history. The Art Institute of Pittsburgh is the flagship of a huge for profit education empire and the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute has held on doggedly to a downtown that most ignore. I think that anyone looking for answers to why Pittsburgh has failed to develop a self supporting organic art scene and retain large numbers of it’s out of town students should look at the design of the city’s colleges.

  13. The real advantages *to the schools* of building this dense education-and-other-things environment in the Loop are at least twofold:

    1. High-end prestigious schools like Columbia, Loyola, Roosevelt, and DePaul find that students can dual-enroll in them and in the community college (HWC) — take your prestige, major-related classes at the big institution, but take your gen-eds, English Composition, basic math, etc, for much cheaper at the community college down the street. I believe Columbia doesn’t even OFFER basic English/math/etc courses anymore, because they expect and advise you to do this. The credits are fully transferrable, and the ways classes are scheduled mean you can easily have a two-institution school day, or classes Tuesday/Thursday at one institution and MWF at the other down the street.

    2. There are lots of low-end service jobs downtown, at restaurants and other places, making it a lot easier for students to get part-time or full-time employment close to school, cutting their commute time and increasing how much time they can devote to studying. I have at least one classmate who has a lunch shift at Potbelly’s: she takes an 8:30 class, changes for work, and comes back to school for two classes in the afternoon.

    Disclaimer: I am a recovering dropout, taking classes at HWC.

  14. Vin says:

    John Morris:

    While you observations about NYC schools are generally correct, I think what you are saying mostly holds true for Manhattan. NYU, Hunter, New School, SVA, Cooper Union, Baruch…all these schools are housed in buildings that, while sometimes noticeable (Hunter has three huge buildings surrounding one intersection, for example), do not interrupt the neighborhood in any meaningful way.

    However, other schools do have proper campuses. Columbia has a campus, though it’s relatively small by the standards of such things. I believe Pratt is the same. St. John’s and Fordham both have larger campuses.

    None of this necessarily disproves your point – the schools are pretty well-integrated with the city, for the most part. But I think this really more a function of a school located in Manhattan, where real estate is at a premium, than any desire on the part of the city or the schools to weave them into the urban fabric. In the outer boroughs (or far uptown), where land is cheaper, schools usually have campuses. Chicago’s “Loop U,” really, operates similarly – land is at a premium, so nobody’s going to build a giant campus. This may be a tough model for other places to follow, frankly.

    Also, don’t mean to be nitpicky (and you may already know this), but Hunter, Baruch and John Jay are all part of the City University system.

  15. John Morris says:

    Yes, I know all those schools are part of CUNY and I should have stated that.

    Also, Columbia is very much the exception–in that it has a pretty big campus and isolates itself and pushes it’s surrounding area around. Really a disgraceful actor in the city, IMHO. NYU, of course, would love to behave like Columbia but gets too much push back.

    St. Johns also shouldn’t count. They have really missed the boat and need to plant a flag in Manhattan. Fordham, hugely important Fordham Law program is very much a product of being in central Manhattan.

  16. John Morris says:

    Also Hunter, has at least one significant satelite program outside the Upper East Side. It’s MFA artist studios are or were around 40th and Ninth Ave, much closer to Chelsea’s galleries.

    Pratt, has had a Manhattan flag for many years. I didn’t mention the schools in or near downtown Brooklyn, which also fit more in an urban type mold with no fancy campuses.

  17. Vin says:

    I attended Hunter – it actually has a few locations outside the main campus. The MFA studios, as you mention, the dorms and some nursing/grad classes are located in Kip’s Bay alongside the FDR, and the social work school is on the UES, but not near the main campus (I believe it’s on 79th St.). Hunter and Baruch both generally have a few large noticeable buildings mostly (I just outlined some exceptions) clustered around one block or intersection. I actually don’t think this is such a terrible model, as it fits in just fine with the street grid and local businesses seem to benefit from all the college kids.

    Also, Hunter’s neighbors are the richest people in America. A cash-strapped public university is not going to push them around.

    My main point, really, is that I wonder if this urban university thing is viable model or just the product of happenstance. Even Loop U, as Aaron describes it, seems to be a linking of already-existing institutions and a marketing tool. A good idea, surely, but that the colleges were so well-integrated into the city seems to be more a function of their being in downtown Chicago than of any policy prerogative. The same could be said of most of Manhattan’s colleges.

    There may be an opportunity here – I’m not familiar with Pittsburgh or Point Park, but I hope it succeeds in embracing and integrating with downtown Pittsburgh. But is it viable? Can a college succeed in a place like Pittsburgh without having “campus life?” Can a smaller city persuade it’s universities to embrace the urban fabric more? I don’t know the answer, I’m just posing the questions. Surely, colleges tend to like being inward-looking. The exceptions tend to be borne of economic necessity, not public policy or any desire on the part of colleges to embrace their urban surroundings.

    Once again, I’m not saying the model can’t work. I’m just asking.

  18. John Morris says:

    Well, I don’t know it sounds like there can easily be a blur between campus life and non campus life. Point Park is already a pretty clear success although much of it’s growth to a larger scale is recent.

    I think it’s clear from the available evidence that lots of kids like a more urban campus and I’m sure one can find many schools doing well with them. Others like the more practical aspects, being closer to jobs–etc.. that have been mentioned here.

    Even in the case of CMU, it’s very clear that the kids at least in the arts related departments very much want the school to be more involved in city life. I think that’s been a very big change for Pittsburgh, to have a major school no longer playing down where it’s located.

    I am not affiliated with Point Park and had never heard of it till I moved here, although it’s pretty well known in performing arts circles.

  19. John Morris says:

    The way Hunter’s MFA program moved into the top ranks is amazing and likely 100% due to location. I’d honestly describe their studios as a dump–since I have caught their open studios many years.

    My rec to any wanna be arts star is to choose a school in or close to a major art center–NYC, LA, Chicago. Um except Yale.

  20. George Mattei says:

    I was going to list off several NY universities that blend into the fabric of the City, but I see that was already done. They aren’t focused like the Chicago ones might be, though so that’s a bit different. I remember going to NYU once and the ONLY way you could tell there was a university there was by the NYU flags that were on the buildings.

    Interestingly enough, universities like Yale (I grew up 2 miles away) or to a lesser degree Ohio State (which I attended) actually used buildings to create barriers between themselved and the surrounding city. Yale is virtually a walled gothic fort, with whole blocks of downtown New Haven completely encircled and gated. Ohio State unfortunately put several large buildings with their backs facing High Street, the main drag through the area, which effectively created a barrier.

    That has begun to change at both institutions, however, as they have reached out to engage the surrounding neighborhoods. Of course, that gets back to Aaron’s comment about a “monolithic, quasi-public” entity generating negative feelings. Both ahve encountered sigificant resistance, as the “big brother” entity messing with others’ neighborhood. I don’t think there is a way around that for a big institution.

  21. John Morris says:

    That’s the thing, you can be lifelong city resident and know it pretty well and still not know where half the school buildings are.

    This should be a huge area of study. I listed most of the colleges in the “Cleveburgh region my blog was supposed to cover and was hoping for more of a dialog about this topic.
    Clearly, there is a big nationwide change in the relationship between Colleges and their surroundings. I hope it’s talked about more on here.

  22. John Morris says:

    I mean a lifelong NYC resident.

  23. the urban politician says:

    I would also add that many of Chicago’s universities outside of downtown are slowly warming up to the idea of integrating with the neighborhoods around them, instead of walling themselves off, and thus taking better advantage of the urban environment that surrounds them.

    UIC, Loyola, Depaul, and U of Chicago have all drawn up plans and implemented recent development that better ties them to the surrounding neighborhood. Think of Loyola’s mixed use development near the north side red line, UIC’s University Village and latest master plan, Depaul’s new campus plan, and even U of C working with Vermillion to create a large, mixed use development in the heart of Hyde Park.

  24. John Morris says:

    Yes, this a big trend somebody should be developing an aggregator or forum that brings together all the new projects.

    We know about the new plans for University Circle in Cleveland.

    Another big part of this is that it’s hard to make a case it’s not market driven. First, one has lots of cost benefit rewards that schools may be finally looking at. Also, really urban schools like NYU, have become hugely popular and there’s a good record of low key small scale success stories like SVA which is now a big school and Point Park. Add to this, the obvious potential revenues universities stand to gain by making better use of their land.

    One is also seeing a general need coming from the students and to create places they can come together and link to the outside world. For example, I was reading about how some of the downtown cultural projects in Scranton are being pushed by students and teachers at colleges in the wider area.

  25. John Morris says:

    Here’s a post on Rust Wire about the revival in Scranton.

    “What gives me the greatest hope, however, is the seemingly spontaneous, even reflexive effort by disparate people to build new and serious arts and cultural traditions downtowns.

    Groups of college students whose classrooms are twenty or thirty miles outside of town have chosen central city locations to convene their writers and artists groups, and they’ve brought along a new generation of university faculty that has begun moving into the city, despite having to commute to school. A then-high school student with a fondness for old movies opened the Vintage Theater, which has become Scranton’s for-the-people by-the-people art house cinema and the new generation’s first choice venue for readings, salons, and other art-centric events.”

    This trend towards reverse commuting is something I see in Pittsburgh quite a bit where some of the faculty at schools like Cal U, Washington and Jefferson and IUP live in or close town and drive out to teach.

    Likewise these more remote small town schools desperately need a connection to someplace a bit bigger and more urban.

  26. DBR96A says:

    Now if only Bob Jones University can integrate itself better into the urban fabric of Greenville, SC.

  27. DTK2OD says:

    This is a very intriguing article, though I find myself enjoying the comments just as much. It definitely makes me think of the higher ed situation here in Buffalo. Obviously, it’s much more of a microcosm of things going on in NYC, Chicago, and even Pittsburgh, but there seems to be a noticeable disconnect between the colleges/universities in this area and their surrounding communities as well as among themselves.

    There’s been an aggressive push by the University at Buffalo to develop a third downtown campus as part of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (which is seem as long overdue by many Buffalo residents who felt cheated after UB decided to locate its flagship campus in Amherst, an outlying suburb, instead of downtown in the 70’s). This downtown campus could see an additional 15,000 students and professors living, learning and working downtown.

    Yet, for every project like the build out of the medical campus, there seems to be twice as many projects that are missed opportunities to better link these schools to their neighborhoods. Buff State is embarking on several major capital projects, like a new dorm complex that borders the main commercial street in its neighborhood. Unfortunately, the school chose to go with huge landscaped set-backs and an inward facing layout that essentially walls off the dorms. This could have injected some much-needed vibrancy in a West Side neighborhood where many of the streets look like they’re straight out of Beirut circa 1990.

    I still have a lot of hope though, that many of the schools are starting to realize that they belong to something bigger than themselves. UB has finally began tapping into Buffalo’s prolific culture of non-profits by providing them with the opportunity to connect to and network with talented and engaged students.

  28. Lynn Stevens says:

    I love this subject of vital urban universities. I worked at Great Cities Institute at UIC on a series of workshops and on putting together the book, The University as Urban Developer. The case studies run the gamut of urban university experiences and are each written from a different angle or approach to an opportunity (or problem, if you will or must).

    Some of the larger campus type urban universities seem to be at least better integrating with pockets of the city or the borders between campus and city. The motivation for almost all of them is recruitment. So whether from U of C’s safety concerns near Hyde Park or the appeal of an urban campus like DePaul’s Lincoln Park, the schools are addressing the concerns and desires of parents and students.

    The fabulous multi-school University Center dorm was a big boost to Loop U, and I’ve been impressed with what Columbia College has been doing in recent years with its scattered campus, including creating student gathering places inside the various buildings.

    With urban integrated campuses, another element working for the model is the smallness of the student population as a percentage of the overall population (daytime and resident). Because students are not the dominant population, some of the traditional town-gown issues are dissipated.

    One of the best things working for the model is the patient capital of these schools. They’re in it for the duration, unlike a typical developer that’s in it for the quick profit. If they chart the wrong course, this could work against them, but there’s no reason why they can’t adapt to circumstances, and certainly many of them have.

    Vin, I’m surprised you find Columbia University’s campus to be relatively small. I’ve never been to it, but, as I recall, Columbia is the 3rd largest landholder in Manhattan after the city and the archdiocese! To your question of happenstance, I think Loop U’s both a product of circumstance and of a bit of the city planning for it and schools working together somewhat.

  29. Lynn Stevens says:

    One more thought: UIC is a different animal altogether. While a larger campus type university, it was built as a commuter campus without a resident student population. That has been changing in recent years and presents the university with a different perspective on development and integration with the neighborhood.

    It was also an urban renewal project and left lasting wounds in the community. A couple of generations have since passed and memories seem kinder now.

  30. Alon Levy says:

    I think Columbia actually owns more Manhattan land than the city. But anyway, Columbia’s land is not just the gated campus; nearly everything in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville is owned by Columbia, housing some university functions as well as student housing. In addition, Columbia has a second campus, used for the medical center.

    However, thinking of things in terms of campus layout is the wrong approach. Columbia has learned its lesson about not gating the campus. Its proposal for the Manhattanville expansion emphasizes that the buildings will be neighborhood-integrated. However, it hasn’t learned any other lesson: it ignores the community, ingratiates itself with politicians, and engages in tenant harassment to make room for more students. NYU is similar: it may be integrated with the Village’s urban form, but its relationship with the poorer areas to its east is one of mutual hatred.

  31. John Morris says:

    No doubt, any synergy between NYU and it’s surroundings is in spite of NYU itself. If ever a school had a golden goose in terms of their location–as an “ultimate place” to go to school, it’s them. Yet, the very organic neighborhoods around them that make the school so attractive are under constant attack by them.

    Since, I think most of us seem to agree good relationships come from a balance of power between the schools and the areas around them;(which is why so many of the best situations happen with small and modest size schools) why do so few people question the open ended power we grant these intitutions?

    Isn’t a lot of the bad design and careless attitude a product of the super priveleged tax status and implied eminent domain threat most of them wield along with all the other subsidies?

  32. Thanks for all the great discussion.

    Lynn, very interesting stuff there. The one thing I might quibble with is the UIC has not abandoned their previous approaches at all, as the destruction of Maxwell Street in the fairly recent past demonstrates.

  33. Vin says:

    Lynn: By “campus” I was only referring to the central area with the library, etc, which cuts off 116th St. (though people are allowed to walk through it during the day). I know Columbia owns many, many other buildings in the city and the neighborhood, and I know they have done some serious pushing-around of people in that part of Manhattan, but outside of that one area their holdings are not really campus-like.

    Re: the synergy between NYU and its surroundings, even that, as Alon implies, is a mostly a function of economics. NYU’s neighbors are rich so they can put up a fight much better than Columbia’s poorer neighbors.

  34. Lynn Stevens says:

    Aaron, of course you’re right about Maxwell Street, and that did create new wounds, though moreso with a transient population of vendors and visitors.

    To put a finer point on it, the changes have been with UIC’s awareness of the benefits of the neighborhood to its growing student residential population. That part includes the Maxwell Street changes. They didn’t integrate with the existing urban form, but created a new one to integrate with the campus. Does that make sense?

  35. John Morris says:

    Re: the synergy between NYU and its surroundings, even that, as Alon implies, is a mostly a function of economics. NYU’s neighbors are rich so they can put up a fight much better than Columbia’s poorer neighbors.

    Yes, but perhaps Columbia’s ownership of so much land has played a big role in keeping the area poor and keeping other big players and potential interests and developers from growing. No, it’s not in the kind of location NYU is but it’s well located and the Upper West Side below it and the areas north of it were once pretty (very) wealthy. Some of the building stock is amazing at least in places not far from the school.

    The limbo situation of wondering what Columbia wanted or might do in the future had a big effect on things. This is also likely why places like South Oakland or the Lower Hill in PGH. Why invest when it seems like UPMC or Pitt will grab everthing in sight, often for parking lots.

  36. John Morris says:

    Ooops, there should be quotes aroud the first paragraph.

  37. John Morris says:

    The Wikipedia for Morningside Heights actually says Columbia started to buy lots of property around it’s campus as it saw the area as “blighted”.

    Anyway a little skim of the entry and a look at any of the photos hardly shows an area without great beauty and architectural assets.

    The folks in the Ivory tower thought they could do better and improve things, leading to decades of social disruption.

    The results were talked about alot by Jane Jacobs and should be a lesson to limit the power granted to Non Profits to tamper with other peoples money and property.

  38. Vin says:

    Yeah, Morningside Heights is actually quite nice and has never really been “blighted,” by any reasonable definition, though it has historically not been wealthy. However, the areas directly adjacent to it are less well-off. The northern stretches of the Upper West Side bordering Morningside Heights have historically been diverse, both ethnically and economically, though generally middle-to-working class. Harlem, to its north, though a vibrant community in its own right, has never really been wealthy.

    One caveat: Today, most of Manhattan south of 96th St. is comparatively well-off.

    I agree that Columbia’s massive land holdings in the neighborhood have considerably influenced its sway, especially compared to NYU and its more piecemeal holdings. Also, NYU really did not aspire to be a major university until relatively recently (not sure precisely when). I could be wrong about this, but 30 or 40 years ago, I don’t think anyone would have mentioned it in the same breath as Columbia. As other John Morris pointed out, NYU’s location really has been its “golden goose” – if it were in, say, Downtown Brooklyn, it would not be what it is today. At some point, some very intelligent person figured out that college kids want to hang out in the Village and there just so happens to be a college right there.

  39. Vin says:

    I meant to say just “John Morris.” I first thought “other commenters” then decided to go back and check who said it – oops.

  40. Vin says:

    Also, to partially answer this: “Why do so few people question the open ended power we grant these institutions?

    Isn’t a lot of the bad design and careless attitude a product of the super priveleged tax status and implied eminent domain threat most of them wield along with all the other subsidies?”

    I’m no expert, but it probably is. Why don’t we question? It seems that some people question it. But I wonder if part of the problem is the near-mythical status that “college” is granted in American society – “ticket to the middle class” and all that.

    I could go on about that at some length, but it would be seriously off-topic, so I’ll refrain.

  41. Alon Levy says:

    I think there’s a social mythology around private nonprofits in general – not just universities. You see the same thing with churches, charities, foundations, hospitals, neighborhood associations, and thinktanks. In the US those constitute civil society, in a way that unions and state institutions don’t.

    Morningside Heights used to be quite poor. Many of the grad student dorms were single-room occupancy buildings even before Columbia took over. The social failure of the neighborhood that Jacobs described wasn’t about Columbia’s power, at least not yet.

    The Upper West Side is different – it’s always been rich. But its richest parts were traditionally south of 96th and on Central Park West. A city celebrity who grew up at the northern end of the UWS says that when he was a kid, circa the 1950s, the neighborhood looked like West Side Story.

    P.S. You can cross 116th on foot at all times. However, the segment through campus has nothing on it except university buildings, so at night it looks sketchy. It’s a psychological barrier more than a real barrier.

  42. John Morris says:

    No doubt, Columbia is an Ivy league school in NYC and has until recently enjoyed a mythical status. It’s a legend in it’s own mind.

    IMHO, no institution should be walled off from rational rules of behavior and granted a status as beyond reproach. This is what has happened with many or most of our big colleges.

    That’s also my general feeling about NYU–that it wasn’t considered in that super elite category until pretty recently (I mean perhaps in particular areas like Film but not accross the board) and that this was very much a result of the synergies that flowed from it’s location. Think of the schools not far away like Parsons, SVA or Cooper Union which seem to have also thrived and grown.

    Although, by grades, or SAT scores, NYU has been pretty elite for a long time.

    I really think there has to be a change in thinking across the board towards higher ed in which we take a harder look at the cost vs. benefits of every action.

  43. John Morris says:

    My guess is pulling apart the history and data on Morninside Height will be hard. Before it or parts of it fell on hard times in the fourties and fifties, I think it was quite middle to upper middle class. As i said, I don’t know that area well at all–partly for the perception of danger and stories on heard.

    One reason pulling apart the history, is that the main players like the city itself and Columbia don’t have an interest in pulling apart this chicken and egg tale. They will tell you the area was “blighted and they were acting to help or save it–(Don’t You Trust An Ivy League School?)Likely, the very labeling and the perceptions and fears about Columbia’s growth plans and the overall “Moses vibe” helped deter private investments. SRO’s are the kind of building use things fall to when nobody wants to invest in improvements.

    This is very much the tale one gets in Pittsburgh about places like the Lower Hill, Uptown, or South Oakland. The city powers say all these places were “blighted” and things would have been so much worse if let be.

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