Conference examines city-university partnerships

<p>For much of its life, New Haven, Conn., was a bustling industrial town. But by the 1980s, many of its factory floors had been shuttered, and the city fell on hard times.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>Yale University, which has stood at the city’s heart since 1701, became an “enclave of privilege in a zone of disinvestment,” says Nancy Levinson, a Yale alumnus and founding director of ASU’s Phoenix Urban Research Laboratory (PURL).<br /></p><separator></separator><p>“Over time, Yale’s response to the decline and increasing crime rate of New Haven was to build, in effect, bigger walls – to put more locks on the gates,” she says.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>But like many other universities around the country, Yale reconsidered this strategy of disengagement. Today, with an endowment that surpasses the gross domestic product of many developing nations, the university has turned its gaze to the streets beyond its gates, becoming the driver of a much-celebrated revitalization of downtown New Haven.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>The costs and benefits of such town-and-gown partnerships will be the subject of an international conference Feb. 14-16 at PURL’s downtown location. The conference, titled “University as Civic Partner,” is co-sponsored by PURL and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (, a think tank based in Cambridge, Mass., that has been researching the role of universities and major institutions in urban neighborhoods.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>The conference theme grew out of a feature story that Levinson wrote for Architectural Record in 2004. She interviewed university presidents from across the country as she explored the issues at the top of campus-planning agendas.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>“They were all saying the same thing: the quality of their urban environment was really important in attracting students and faculty and in ensuring their long-term viability,” Levinson says.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>From Providence, R.I.,  to Philadelphia, and from Chicago to Atlanta, universities cited a laundry list of common woes, including:<br /></p><separator></separator><p>• Lack of housing for students, staff and faculty.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>• A dearth of grocery stores and retail outlets.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>• Concerns over a rising incidence in serious crime – worries that intensified in recent years by several highly publicized campus murders.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>For prospective students, the quality of urban life – including safe, lively streets lined with cafes, boutiques, movie theaters and bookstores – ranked high alongside quality of instruction.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>“The conference will bring together people who are facing the same issue in different ways: how to move from enclave to engagement,” Levinson says.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>The conference will draw city and university officials from across the country. Several institutions that have transformed their campus environs to connect more strongly with their surrounding neighborhoods and cities will be showcased. Among them is the Georgia Institute of Technology, whose Technology Square project has catalyzed the redevelopment of midtown Atlanta.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>Recognizing that it needed to reinvigorate its sprawling, suburban-style campus, Georgia Tech capped a multilane freeway and reclaimed the surrounding vacant lots in the mid-1990s to create a pedestrian-friendly, compact district that is connected to the main campus by public transit. The new site is home to several Georgia Tech academic programs, as well as a new hotel and conference center.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>The burst of activity spurred one private developer to augment the new district with affordable, mid-rise lofts. Among the new tenants are faculty and staff members who now live minutes away from their desks instead of hours on Atlanta’s notoriously clogged freeways. The housing has been so successful that it has boosted the number of residents from about 5,000 people in the mid-1990s to a population of 25,000 today.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>Like Georgia Tech, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia jump-started the renewal of its urban matrix in the mid-1990s with a program notable for its range and ambition. Known as the West Philadelphia Initiatives, the project beefed up streetscaping and police security, and also laid the foundational infrastructure that undergirds all good neighborhoods.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>The university spearheaded the building of an attractive, well-stocked grocery store, affordable middle-class housing, a cinema and a mix of small, locally owned retail. It even founded – and continues to support – a model charter school.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>Emboldened by the success of these early efforts, the university is reclaiming abandoned industrial sites and rail yards as it moves east toward the Schuylkill River in its latest series of community-embedded expansions.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>Levinson hopes that the conference presentations and discussions will provide inspiration to ASU and Phoenix planners as they embark on their own ambitious, multiyear collaboration to reinvigorate the city’s urban core.<br /></p><separator></separator><p>In 2006, Phoenix voters passed a major bond issue, $223 million of which are earmarked to help spur the expansion of ASU into downtown Phoenix. When completed, the 20-acre campus will be home to several ASU colleges and schools, a civic space and two dormitories that will house some of the estimated 15,000 enrolled students. <br /></p><separator></separator><p>“ASU needed room to grow, and downtown Phoenix was in search of vitality,” Levinson says. “It was a natural partnership. A university has a lot more potential to revitalize downtown than stadiums or retail markets or cultural centers, because the university occupies the city in a certain way. It’s 24/7. It’s about live, work and play, and it’s about mixed use – all of which are words you’d use to describe a vital city. As cities increasingly are strapped, university-city partnerships can play a critical role in keeping alive a certain kind of urbanism.”<br /></p><separator></separator><p>For more information, visit the conference Web site <a href="">…; or call PURL at (480) 727-9880.</p><separator></separator><p>Adelheid Fischer, <a href=""></a><br /> (480) 965-6367<br /> Herberger Center for Design Research</p>