University Cities | A NEW SPECIES OF CITY
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University of Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky


October 13th, 2017

A New Species of City

These cities have outgrown their college-town status and created dynamic economies around the major research universities in the urban core. Here’s how we define them:

  • Metro between 250k and 1 million

  • Major research university in the center of the city

  • More than 10% of population are students


Edward Glaeser is the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, and author of Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. Join us at the University Cities conference to hear from mayors, academics, university presidents, and other thought leaders about what it means to be a University City.

Mayor Jim Gray

Jim Gray is getting things done as mayor of Lexington, a vibrant university city of 305,000 surrounded by the most beautiful horse farms in the world.
In 2016 Lexington was named the 6th best run city in the country.
In his first term, Mayor Gray drew upon his experience as the CEO of Gray Construction, the international design-build firm, to bring an executive’s approach to government.

Mayor Wade Troxell

Wade O. Troxell is the Mayor of Fort Collins, Colorado. He was elected in April 2015 and re-elected in April 2017, now serving his second term as mayor. Wade is on the faculty and has served as the Associate Department Head, Mechanical Engineering, at Colorado State University. Mayor Troxell serves on the Platte River Power Authority Board of Directors, ChairNational League of Cities (NLC) Universities Communities Council (UCC), Executive Board – Colorado Municipal League, Chair – Northern Colorado Regional Airport Commission, City of Fort Collins/Colorado State University Leadership Committee, and Chair – City of Fort Collins Futures Committee.

President Eli Capilouto

Dr. Eli Capilouto became the 12th President of the University of Kentucky on July 1, 2011. Under his leadership, the $3.5 billion flagship and land grant research university has gained significant momentum in fulfilling its multi-faceted mission of teaching, research, service and health care.
Dr. Capilouto has led a process to enrich UK’s academic experience by investing in priorities that maintain affordability and access; support the institution’s talented faculty and staff; and revitalize the living, learning and research facilities across campus.

President Tony Frank

Tony Frank is the 14th president of Colorado State University, one of the nation’s leading public land-grant research universities with more than 29,000 students and more than $300 million in annual research activity. Since his appointment to the presidency in 2008, he has overseen a period of record fund-raising and enrollment, rising graduation rates, increasing diversity, and unprecedented research support. He was named Chancellor of the Colorado State University System on June 1, 2015.

Scott Shapiro

As Mayor Jim Gray’s Chief Innovation Officer, Scott Shapiro generates transformative projects that do not fall neatly within the standard method of city-service delivery.
A city-benchmarking project led Scott to discover a new species of city – the University City – and he writes and speaks frequently about the concept’s implications for Lexington, its peers, and aspiring University Cities. Scott also co-leads Lexington’s Gig project, which aims to bring a fiber-optic network with ultra-fast Internet speeds to the city. And he is launching the city’s first text-notification system, LexAlerts, providing advance notification to citizens regarding the impact of city services on a house-by-house level.

Dr. Kenneth Troske

Dr. Kenneth R. Troske is the Associate Dean for graduate programs and outreach in the Gatton College of Business and Richard W. and Janis H. Furst Endowed Chair of Economics at the University of Kentucky as well as a Research Fellow with the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Bonn, Germany. Dr. Troske served as a member of the Congressional Oversight Panel whose task was to assess the existing condition of America’s financial markets and the regulatory system as well as to closely monitor the actions of the Treasury Department and financial institutions to determine if their actions are in the best interest of the American economy.

Omar Blaik

Omar Blaik is CEO of U3 Advisors. Omar founded U3 Ventures LLC, a predecessor of today’s firm, in 2006 with the belief that anchor institutions hold the key to sustainable community and economic development in many cities across the country. Omar leads the advisory and development efforts of U3 Advisors, working with university leaders, city and state governments, non-profit foundations, and real estate developers to provide expertise on institutional anchor strategy, campus edge planning, local economic development, and place-based real estate strategy.

Benjamin Kennedy

Benjamin Kennedy is managing director of The Kresge Foundation’s American Cities Practice, while also serving as managing director of the foundation’s Detroit Program.
Benjamin’s leadership of the American Cities Practice and Detroit Program involve overseeing grantmaking and social investments aimed at helping Detroit and other American cities grapple with a wide array of socio-economic issues.
Prior to joining Kresge in 2009, Benjamin was with JPMorgan Chase in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was an associate on the firm’s mergers and acquisitions team.

Chantel Rush

Chantel M. Rush is a program officer with The Kresge Foundation’s American Cities Practice. Her grantmaking portfolio includes funding efforts to seed and scale innovative community development practices aimed at improving the lives of people with low incomes in America’s cities. Her grantmaking work also supports pioneering research, thought leadership and convenings to expand urban policymaking and practice. She also stewards the foundation’s place-based work in Memphis, Tennessee. Chantel joined the foundation in 2015, working as a special assistant to Kresge President and CEO Rip Rapson. Before joining Kresge, she served as senior analyst of global strategy and business development at Gap Inc.

Katie Appel Duda

Katie Appel Duda has been on the Government Innovation Team at Bloomberg Philanthropies since April 2010. Katie performed planning and policy work for the Department of Homeless Services while receiving undergraduate degrees in psychology and government from the University of Virginia. She received a master’s degree in public affairs with a focus in policy analysis from New York University in 2008. While in graduate school, Katie worked as the Assistant Communications Director to the Mayor of New York.

University Cities share same DNA…

University Cities are full of talent…

Population with Bachelors or Above 2015

University Cities0%
Cities of the same size0%
Large Metros0%
economically resilient…

GMP Growth 2009-2015

University Cities0%
Cities of the same size0%
Large Metros0%
Arts & Cultural Establishments per 100,000 People

University Cities0%

University Cities are also

Business starts per 100,000
UCs are 12% above the national average
Have low violent crime…
Violent crimes per 100k
UCs are 28% below the national average
And have a low cost of living.
Fair market rent for a 2 bedroom apartment
UCs are 15% below the national average.

While everywhere else suffered in the recession, this new urban species somehow kept unemployment, costs of living, and crime rates down. What we can learn from ‘University Cities.’

Post-industrial City. Metropolis. Border Town. Tourist Mecca. We like to classify our cities, giving them labels that signal what makes them tick, why they’re special.

Now, data suggest there’s another urban typology to add to the list: The University City. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “If you want to build a great city, create a great university and wait 200 years.”


Walk around Videon’s headquarters, and it’s easy to forget that you’re in a short, squat building in the back of an office park. Dogs run around the open workspace, filled with standing desks, funky stone tables and huge computer monitors. They’re an audiovisual technology company, so it make sense that they would want to show off their equipment.

This group, which he calls “university cities,” have distinct characteristics that make them different from smaller college towns or major cities with big research universities. And those characteristics translate into big economic development opportunities in the 21st century’s knowledge-based economy.