Sunday, June 12, 2011

Reflecting on Utopia on the Hudson?

As most of you know, I am currently living in Albany, New York (though I don't really consider it my "home") a city that, since the 1960s if not before, has been faced, like other rust belt cities in the United States, with economic, cultural, and housing stock decline. And like so many other American cities that experienced manufacturing decline and white flight to the suburbs Albany has, over the years, tried to stem this decline.

I can't help but compare what the College of Saint Rose has done to try to stem this decline--taking over and converting houses and other buildings in the old Pine Hills neighbourhood of Albany for various uses including student residences--to what the University at Albany is doing--renting out part of the Alumni complex near Saint Rose (wouldn't it be nice if this could be transformed into a humanities and social sciences residential college with a bit of Oxford and Cambridge thrown into the German mass production education model we use now?) and building hordes of little mustard coloured boxes (there's money in them there being a landlord hills?) in the suburbs where UAlbany is located. I guess I appreciate what Saint Rose has done more than what UAlbany has done.

Why? Because Saint Rose is, it seems to me, contributing to the preservation of Albany's architectural and cultural history and is doing something that I think is positive for their town and gown relations. UAlbany seems me to be separating itself more and more from old Albany in a variety of different ways (why not purchase buildings around the old campus between Washington and Western and convert them for multiple uses including residence like Saint Rose?) putting more and more of its eggs in the nanotech is utopia basket. I sometimes wonder how long it will be before the UAlbany finally faces up reality (the inevitable budget cuts which just keep on coming and giving and turning UAlbany from a second or third level research university into something else) and changes its name from the University at Albany to the Albany Institute of Nanotechnology?

Whether the state of New York and UAlbany's decision to go the tech route (and subsidise tech development with tax payer money) pays off is as yet unclear. I suspect that the result will be the addition of a few hundred jobs to the Capital District, most of which will be filled by the middle class. I also suspect that many of those who relocate to the Albany area because of these new "high tech" jobs will live in the suburbs not in old Albany. I thus suspect that Albany's decline will continue. I also suspect that SUNY and UAlbany will continue their decline and that the four university centres (Buffalo, Stony Book, Binghamton, Albany) will continue to look more and more like Ball State and Bowling Green rather than anything resembling the great state research universities of the American Midwest like Indiana University, Bloomington, or the University of Michigan. None of them, save perhaps Buffalo, were ever the equivalent of the great state research universities of the Midwest or Chapel Hill, Berkley, UCLA, or UT Austin, anyway. But hey, don't take what I say seriously I am, after all, simply a cynic embittered by life (life is, as Buddhism teaches, suffering).

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