The Art of Sophistication: Linking Universities and Towns

In the fourth economy, the world’s universities will anchor far-reaching and interconnected communities that seamlessly blend ideation and commerce. These communities will be simultaneously virtual and place-based. In anticipation of this evolution the most forward looking institutions are working to understand how they can control or influence the economics of the marketplace to create thriving campus edge commercial environments. These environments create a neutral space for the life of the university to engage with the world in the most practical sense of the term.

This is nothing new, to be honest. The monastic system both in Europe and Asia produced this creative mixing immediately beyond the walls of the institution where the laity would be taught and blessed in exchange for tithes or food. In the U.S. only a handful of institutions (Harvard Square, Morningside Heights, and Charlottesville come to mind) created and preserved a truly dynamic physical place where the academy mixes with the populous. However, leadership at a growing number of universities and colleges are coming to believe that creating something in this spirit is critical to the success of the institution, as measured by their ability to attract and retain world-class faculty and students.

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Numbers Behind the News: The Fountain of Youth

William Frey of The Brookings Institution analyzed new Census data to identify the places that are attracting young people.   Keep in mind that young people are not moving in the numbers they once did, but the ones who do are choosing places that “have a certain vibe—college towns, high-tech centers, and so-called ‘cool cities’.

Top Region’s for Young Migrants (Employment growth Sep 2010 – Sep 2011)

  • Denver (0.4%)
  • Houston (2.6%)
  • Dallas (2.5%)
  • Seattle (1.6%)
  • Austin (2.2%)
  • Washington D.C. (0.3)
  • Portland (1.3%)

Older movers are choosing places like Phoenix, AZ and Riverside, CA, once booming regions where the bloom has faded but not disappeared.  It is not clear if this signals a long term trend in the making.  Frey’s data compares the trend from 2005-2007 to 2008-2010 so you can’t attribute too much to such limited data.  However, the gains made in attracting young movers can have long term payoff as they become adults and put down more roots in the community.

Another interesting element is that two of the cities, Denver and Washington, D.C. have had lower job growth than the national average (1.2%) from Sep 2010 to Sep 2011.  What attracts young people to these places must be something more than short-term or cyclical opportunities.  It is either that, or young people are making bad decisions.