City Community Leaders Visit Pitt, Learn About University-Community Partnerships

Issue Date: 
November 25, 2013

The University of Pittsburgh’s collaborations with neighborhood organizations are being looked to as models for developing similar partnerships in cities nationwide. 

Community leaders from the national Anchor District Council gathered Oct. 24 in Pitt’s Alumni Hall for an afternoon forum to discuss examples of successful collaborations between institutions and community groups. Attendees hailed from Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.

The Anchor District Council is a group of leaders from community organizations located in “anchor districts”—vibrant urban neighborhoods that are playing significant roles in the transformations of their cities. These anchor districts are in turn anchored by “anchor institutions” in the education, medical, and arts sectors. The goal for members of the Anchor District Council is to improve connections between their organizations and neighboring anchor institutions in an effort to elevate their anchor district as a whole.

In the parlance of the council, Oakland is an anchor district of Pittsburgh and Pitt is one of its anchor institutions. Local council members include Georgia Petropoulos, executive director of the Oakland Business Improvement District, who served as a coordinator of the council’s forum on Pitt’s campus. “They chose to come to Pittsburgh to see what we do and how we do it,” she said of her peers. “Some of them were astounded.”

At the event, Pitt’s G. Reynolds Clark, vice chancellor for external relations and chief of staff to Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, was a featured speaker. “The University of Pittsburgh has long recognized that our success is linked with the success of our neighboring communities, and this point can be illustrated by picturing an anchor,” he said, applying the council’s favorite metaphor. “What most people think of when they think of anchors are the large, heavy hunks of metal that secure a ship from drifting. An important part of an anchor that is frequently overlooked is the apparatus that connects it to the ship. You see, without a chain, an anchor is useless. Pitt may be an anchor in this community, but we need our neighbors and partnering organizations—the connecting chain—as much as they need us.” 

Clark went on to highlight a range of University-community partnerships, including the following.

Schenley Plaza Pitt partnered with more than a dozen organizations to convert a parking lot into a park that now serves as Oakland’s “town square.”

Pittsburgh Neighborhood and Community Information System This service provided by Pitt’s University Center for Social and Urban Research aggregates and analyzes data sets to monitor community conditions such as levels of property ownership for 130 municipalities in Allegheny County.

Keep It Clean Oakland Pitt partners with the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation on this initiative that engages students, residents, and local businesses in “cleaning and greening” Oakland through activities such as tree planting and picking up litter.

Pitt Make a Difference Day In what has become an annual event, thousands of students spend a Saturday working on community projects throughout the region. This year, 3,300 students participated in a total of 83 projects, including 48 in the City of Pittsburgh and others as far away as McKeesport, Verona, and Moon Township.

Family Foundations Early Head Start Pitt’s Office of Child Development in the School of Education runs this program to provide comprehensive child development and family support services to low-income families with children from birth to age three. It is offered at six sites throughout the region.

Investing Now This college preparatory program supports students who are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors and careers. Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering offers this program year-round for high school students in ninth through 12th grades.

Oakland Food Pantry This pantry was founded by Community Human Services in collaboration with Pitt and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Pitt’s Office of the Chancellor matches all donations to the food pantry.

Matilda Theiss Health Center Physicians who are faculty members in the University’s Department of Family Medicine provide care for uninsured patients at this center in the Oak Hill neighborhood.    

Many of these partnerships have developed through building relationships. Clark noted that staff members from Pitt’s Office of Community and Governmental Relations regularly attend meetings of the Oakland Business Improvement District, Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, Peoples Oakland, Oakland Transportation Management Association, and Community Human Services to collaborate on addressing challenges and finding solutions to community issues.

“I firmly believe that all anchor institutions take their respective role seriously,” he said during his conclusion. “You are here to better understand what we have here in Pittsburgh. From my perspective, the relationships that the University of Pittsburgh has formed with the Oakland neighborhood and the city as well as our other home communities in Western Pennsylvania—Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown, and Titusville—are strong relationships because Pitt cares about partnerships. Together we collectively enhance our neighborhoods with respect and collaboration.”