Pittsburgh: A Metrotextual Community

My law school colleague Jim Chen, who recently was appointed Dean of the law school at the University of Louisville, mused recently about that law school's role in the Louisville community, and more broadly about the aspirations and role of the *urban* university -- as opposed to aspirations and roles of universities in generally. Much of his commentary applies to Pittsburgh, both university and city; Louisville, like Pittsburgh, is a river-based community. I've posted occasional thoughts about the University of Pittsburgh (on sports, on economic development, on reputation), so the Louisville post is timely.

Lawyers love plays on words, and academic lawyers love to tweak the noses of literary post-modernists. So Jim dodges the word "metropolitan," which conjures some Louisville taboos (Kentucky, it appears, self-identifies as rural), and instead coins the word "metrotextual" to describe his view of that city:
The central problems of our time are the problems of cities, of urban conglomerations so potent as to transcend earlier generations' conception of the "metropolis." To paraphrase the popular singer-songwriter, Natalie Merchant, "A woman of beauty / A woman of pain / In France or Jakarta" faces frustrations and harbors dreams every bit as much as "A woman of color / With debts to be paid / In Trenton or Detroit." At home or abroad, "Her shadow's the same."

By the same token, the world's metropolitan research universities hold the key to a brighter future for ourselves and our posterity. In his epochal book, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, Richard Florida quotes what he calls an "old German adage": Stadtluft macht frei. City air makes you free. Yes, today's cities generate many of the problems that confront contemporary societies. Led by their universities and their most engaged citizens, those cities offer hope. They offer solutions.

Read the whole thing here.
Here in Pittsburgh, Pitt aspires to prominence as a public research university; its urban identity -- dare I say its metrotextual identity -- is subsumed within that goal. Its metrotextuality, however, is worth pondering.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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