Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Point Park-- Pittsburgh's Great Urban University

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, Fordam, 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.

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