Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Star-Tribune Questions

University of Minnesota UMore Park Priorities

From the Strib:

Redeveloping campus surroundings should be a priority.

Consider the University of Minnesota's priorities. The U and its partners struggle to shore up the deteriorating neighborhoods around the main campus. The work is noble, necessary and difficult. Meanwhile, 25 miles to the south, the U continues its elaborate plans to build a sustainable community for 30,000 people on the fringe of the metropolitan area in Rosemount.

What if the university had consolidated its efforts and targeted its considerable talent, creativity and ambition on its immediate surroundings? What if, rather than devoting so much energy and academic firepower to a remote site, the U had committed to building a sustainable community for a similar number of people right on its doorstep, integrated into its campus life? What if UMore Park had been a demonstration of urban infill rather than a perpetuation of the "rapidly decentralizing" pattern that characterizes the Twin Cities metro area, a pattern that's out of step with profound global changes that demand smaller carbon footprints and more attention to rebuilding the communities that we already have?

"Rapidly decentralizing" is the description that the Brookings Institution uses to describe Minneapolis-St. Paul's development pattern, one that is priced to favor growth on new ground at the expense of rebuilding older communities -- like those around the university's main campus.

The problem isn't unique to the University of Minnesota. Dozens of urban campuses -- notably Yale, Penn and Ohio State -- have had to step in to stabilize adjacent neighborhoods or risk a loss of campus vitality, safety, achievement and competitiveness. The success of universities is inextricably linked to their surroundings. Many have tried to operate as islands. But that doesn't work. The best and brightest faculty and students are not drawn to shabby and dangerous places.

To see the U's academic creativity focused on a suburban development project seems a bit jarring when the salient task on the American landscape is not to build the new but to retrofit the old.

Thank you, Strib, for asking the right questions. It is a matter of priorities. And the current occupants of Morrill Hall find it easier - until lately - to focus on what is going to happen ten years down the road than on what is happening now - which is their job. And this hubris is the reason we are in the current mess.

This trainwreck was obvious years ago as anyone who can count past 26 knows.

Leadership matters. Time for a serious change?

For some background, please see:

Exactly how long is the UMore Park craziness going to continue?

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