Will the City Ever Learn?

Will the City Ever Learn?

Courtesy Center for an Urban Future

The Center for an Urban Future has more good news about the state of the design industry in New York. Last June the Manhattan-based think tank issued “Growth by Design,” a white paper on the state of what it calls the "innovation economy" in the five boroughs. It pointed out that New York City has nearly twice as many designers (architecture, graphic, interior, fashion and industrial design) as Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest design hub. There are for example 8,200 architects and 2,680 interior design firms compared to visual artists (805) and performing artists (1,048). The point of last year’s study was to highlight the fact that designers and architects in this city do not really get the attention they deserve as members of the creative economy. Since then Christine Quinn has proposed some sort of design festival for next year, but the Bloomberg administration seems more focused on Cornell’s new applied sciences campus on Roosevelt Island and the five new sound stages at Brooklyn’s Steiner Studios as potential job generators than on our dynamic design industry.

In view of this official disregard, we pointed out in our June 22 editorial that the study also neglects to mention the number of non-profit institutions in the city that for years have supported and promoted design. The other vibrant design institutions the report neglected to mention were the many design schools in the city that feed graduates into the profession and community. Now the Center has just issued a report, “Designing New York’s Future,” that details local educational institutions with design schools and design departments. Here again, New York City is the clear leader in design education in the United Sates, if pure numbers are any indication of leadership in this field.

New York City graduates “more than twice as many students in design and architecture as any other city in the country.” The report also claims “that the city’s leading design schools—including Parsons The New School for Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology, Pratt Institute, and the School of Visual Arts—have become critical catalysts for innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth." In short, New York City needs to recognize that no other city matches it in terms of education infrastructure in design and architecture. In 2010, New York City graduated 4,278 students in design and architecture, while the city with the second most, Los Angeles, graduated less than half as many (1,769). It also has two architecture schools in the country’s top ten by the number of degrees awarded: Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation (#5) and Pratt (#8).

In addition, enrollment at New York’s design universities has been growing at a faster rate than at other universities in the city: Between 2001 and 2010, full-time student enrollment at the city’s 10 largest design and architecture schools increased by 34 percent, going from 18,002 students at the beginning of the decade to 24,065 students ten years later. During the same period, student enrollment at all institutions of higher education in New York City grew 27 percent.

These numbers however do not highlight the creative relationship the design institutions have with the profession, where junior designers have long supplemented their income with adjunct teaching assignments and faculty meet (and hire) the best design talents bringing them into the profession and community. It should be pointed out that this report studies only design schools in the five boroughs, but if we think of Princeton to our south and New Haven and Ithaca to our north as part of New York’s orbit then the picture becomes even more impressive. Justifiably famous for their faculties, these schools employ—in addition to many New York-based architects—the most creative design historians, theoreticians, engineers, city planners, and urban designers. Further, the lectures, symposia, and colloquiums they continue to produce make this the most dynamic design environment on the planet, let alone in the United States. The New York design community seems to go from strength to strength, but it’s not the utopia the numbers suggest. Speaker Quinn’s design festival is a good if slightly frivolous start, but how about a city-financed incubator for young designers opening their first studio? That would make an actual difference, while also showing us that the city understands the rich potential of our industry to advance its own future. To see the full report, visit the Center for an Urban Future’s web site.