Universities should maintain collaboration in trying economic times, report says

Martes, Julio 28, 2009

For Immediate Release
Contact: Anthony Flint 617-661-3016 x116

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (July 28, 2009) – Despite the challenges of the economic downturn, colleges and universities should continue to integrate campus expansion with urban neighborhoods, according to a new report published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

The tasks laid out in Town–Gown Collaboration in Land Use and Development, by Yesim Sungu-Eryilmaz, the Lincoln Institute’s latest Policy Focus Report, include balancing university and community roles as part of a large, complex urban environment; working together toward common goals by sharing responsibility, authority, and accountability for achieving results; and creating lasting change founded on ongoing communication and long-term, relationships.

“The ‘town-gown’ relationship has clearly evolved,” said Gregory K. Ingram, president of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. “These anchor institutions have entered a new era of community engagement – no longer enclaves of intellectual pursuit, but rather centers of employment, spending, and workforce development, and economic engines that attract new businesses and highly skilled individuals to revitalize urban environments.”

Over 80 percent of U.S. colleges and universities are in urban neighborhoods. To fulfill their mission, these institutions often become involved in land development at the campus edge, whether to construct new dormitories and research facilities or to offset neighborhood decline. These activities usually have an immediate impact on the neighborhood and on the entire city.

When the use of urban land for university purposes competes with its use for local priorities, conflicts inevitably arise. A variety of stakeholders—ranging from local governments to nearby residents—may mobilize to counter university land development for reasons related to social and economic concerns, quality of life in the neighborhood, the planning and design process, and loss of property tax revenue.

The report includes a matrix of what works and what doesn’t in approaches to land use and development, categorized by community concerns:

* Social equity. Efforts to mitigate displacement and gentrification, and to generate job opportunities for local residents and businesses works; ignoring the neighborhood’s social and economic context doesn’t.

* Planning. A joint planning process that involves the university, the community, and city leaders works; land banking, finalizing university plans internally, or consulting only with citywide organizations doesn’t.

* Design. Planning and developing the university or college campus in ways that blend the academic and local communities works; development that is out of character with the surrounding neighborhood scale doesn’t.

* Leadership. Close involvement of the university president or other top-level leaders in developing and sustaining the commitment to community engagement works; having no formal mechanism for senior officials to work with the community, except on an ad hoc basis, doesn’t.

* Tax-exempt status. Recognition of inequitable tax burdens due to institutional status and use of alternative payments works; long-running disputes and court cases between the universities and cities over development projects and tax-exempt status doesn’t.

“Because most of these institutions have substantial fixed assets and are not likely to relocate, the need for effective collaboration is increasing. At the same time, these institutions must achieve their missions in a highly competitive environment and in a period of extreme fiscal pressure,” the report says. “Colleges and universities must seek to be fully vested urban anchor institutions, not only by advancing the goals of academia, but also by coordinating their place-based strategies with the interests of the city and the community.”

About the Author

Yesim Sungu-Eryilmaz was a research associate at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy from 2004 to 2009. Her work centered on strategies and tools that balance economic and community development goals such as community land trusts and the role of universities and other anchor institutions in urban development.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy is a leading resource for key issues concerning the use, regulation, and taxation of land. The Institute has maintained a focus on the integration of colleges, universities, and other anchor institutions in urban environments. More information is available at the Web site University Real Estate Development, which includes material on the program The City, Land, and the University, at http://www.lincolninst.edu/subcenters/university-real-estate-development/. A recent article on the university's role in urban development in Land Lines is available here.

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