Beyond town and gown: university economic engagement and the legacy of the urban crisis

Published on Apr 1, 2012in Journal of Technology Transfer5.783
· DOI :10.1007/S10961-010-9185-4
Margaret Pugh O'Mara5
Estimated H-index: 5
(UW: University of Washington)
University-driven land development and research into the amelioration of social problems are examples of the wider dimensions of economic engagement by large American research universities in metropolitan settings since 1949, and both dimensions are strongly conditioned by the experiences of universities and surrounding neighborhoods during the “urban crisis” of the 1960s. The rise of the modern American research university between 1950 and 1980 coincided with the economic decline of large American cities and the slide of their poorest neighborhoods into severe socioeconomic distress. The elite identification of the university as a force for economic and social change was a direct response to these urban upheavals, and the dynamics of its new role were fueled by the presumptions of postwar consensus liberalism. The urban crisis had an effect on town-gown relations that endured into the early twenty-first century, not least because it made local governments and universities allies rather than adversaries. Countering definitions of the role the university should take in economic development have arisen from a “town” comprised not of elected officials, but of community members from both within and outside of the university. The long shadow of urban crisis attests to the historical contingency of town-gown interactions and the usefulness of historical, case-based approaches to understanding the role of universities in urban and metropolitan economies.
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