On September 17, the Washington Post’s daily Going Out Guide newsletter included as the lead story “Getting to Know D.C.’s College Towns.” When I followed the link to the story, it actually had a somewhat different headline—“Get Schooled on the D.C. Area’s Division I University Campuses.”
Nonetheless, the opening paragraph had much the same slant as promised in the teaser: “What makes a great college town (or in some cases, neighborhood)? We asked recent graduates from six of our local Division I universities to tell us about the places and events that make their schools special. From sticky-floored bars to late-night junk food stops, here’s their full report.”
The article then profiles the campuses and the neighborhoods that surround the campuses of the University of Maryland, George Washington University, Georgetown University, American University, Howard University, and George Mason University.
I thought that it was strange that these institutions seem, in effect, to be trying to have it both ways—to be emphasizing both the cosmopolitan advantages of their urban environments and the sense of a self-contained and generally safe community that is characteristic of most college towns.
I had never previously come across that sort of marketing strategy.
But today’s newsletter from the website Next City included an op-ed by Scott Shapiro titled “New Species of City Discovered: The University City.”
Shapiro is a senior advisor to the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, and these are the opening paragraphs of Shapiro’s op-ed:
“ . . . From Philadelphia to Chicago, there are certainly neighborhoods defined by, even, arguably, improved by their anchor institutions of higher learning. But up until now, the University City hasn’t been thought of as a discrete species.
“So what is a University City? In Lexington, Kentucky, a city of 300,000—and home to the University of Kentucky—Mayor Jim Gray’s office is working to answer that question. . . .
“Why seek a solid definition? For one, deeply understanding one’s city type should be at the core of a city’s long-term strategy, informing land-use planning, workforce development efforts, economic development initiatives and, of course, budget priorities. There’s both comfort and inspiration in looking at peers, cities that, data show, are true analogues.
“What we’ve found is six metros that have leapt from college town status to a University City. They are: Madison, Ann Arbor, Fort Collins, Durham-Chapel Hill, Lincoln, and Lexington. We asked Arnold Stromberg, chairman of the statistics department at the University of Kentucky, to conduct an analysis of all cities with a population and MSA between 250,000 and one million, across a range of data sets.
“Those six, clustered together, suggest that they are more similar to each other than to other cities. University Cities share a naturally occurring constellation of characteristics that position them perfectly for the knowledge economy. In other words, all of them have an Austin-y upside that is theirs to lose.
“Each of the six cities has a diversified economy around a major research university in its urban core and has college students making up at least 10 percent of its population. These cities have populations now large enough to leverage—in ways that are not always obvious—the talent, investment, innovation, ideas, openness, culture and entrepreneurialism that naturally surround large institutions of higher education.
“The data show that in many ways, University Cities have the vibrancy of the nation’s largest cities, mirroring their high rates of educational attainment and new business starts, their economic growth coming out of the recession, and their high rates of arts and cultural institutions per capita. But they differ from the largest cities in their low cost of living, their low unemployment rates and their low violent crime rates.”
Interestingly, not long after I joined the faculty at Wright State University, the administration took great pains to define our university as a “metropolitan university” and to make connections with other institutions of the same type. The resulting organization, the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities, is still operative, and my university remains a member. At least in our case, the initial strategy was to define our university as something other than a traditional research university so that it would not be measured quite so disadvantageously against Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati.
Although there is some overlap in the concepts of the “metropolitan university” and the “university city,” what Shapiro is attempting to define as a new category are college towns that have grown into vibrant cities; in contrast, many of the cities in which the metropolitan universities are located are former industrial centers in which the universities have become major economic drivers largely by default.
The full text of Shapiro’s op-ed is available at: https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/what-is-a-university-city-new-definition-urban-typology
The full article in the Washington Post is available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/going-out-guide/wp/2015/09/17/get-schooled-on-the-d-c-areas-major-college-campuses/?wpmm
The Wikipedia article listing the member institutions of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities is available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalition_of_Urban_and_Metropolitan_Universities