Paper Finds University R&D to Affect Neighborhood Spatial Development

Deborah Lang | dlang@upenn.edu | 215.880.2372
Monday, August 17, 2015

A new white paper just released by the Penn Institute for Urban Research (Penn IUR) finds that university-based research and development (R&D) affects the spatial development of universities, as well as their surrounding urban areas. The paper, titled “From Science Parks to Innovation Districts Research: Facility Development in Legacy Cities on the Northeast Corridor,” explores the spatial aspects of university-led R&D in older, industrial Northeast cities that have experienced significant population and job loss in recent decades.

“We still have a lot to learn about how university-based R&D affects the ways in which university campuses and their neighborhoods change, transform and grow,” says the paper’s author and Penn IUR Co-Director Genie Birch. “But one thing is clear: there is an important link between R&D and spatial development, and in order to better understand how universities can anchor and support their surrounding environments, we need to monitor and explore this phenomenon.”

One challenge in understanding this link is that university-led urban revitalization is very often a slow process. A second challenge, according to the report, is that research universities tend to accommodate the demand for research space in ways that meet their specific contexts and needs, often in partnership with their localities. This leads university-driven development to manifest itself in diverse, varied and distinct ways.

The paper finds that university-based R&D is often funded by structured, federal grants which pay researchers’ and doctoral students’ salaries, and also pay for laboratories and other facilities in which the researchers work. This leaves physical imprints in the nation’s cities and suburbs in four major ways: campus expansion (including technology parks), corridor/highway developments, downtown redevelopments and scattered-site projects.

The full report, “From Science Parks to Innovation Districts Research: Facility Development in Legacy Cities on the Northeast Corridor,” is available on the Penn IUR website.

Eugenie Birch

Eugenie Birch