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Town- Gown Relations

Local universities have always played an important role in their communities, acting as a platform for knowledge exchange, higher learning, and regional pride.  However, the relationship between a university and its surrounding community can have a big impact on economic growth and development. The presence of a university typically brings an entire student body along with faculty and staff to live, work and play in a relatively concentrated area. As the demand for leisure activities, retail and restaurants increases, the city often sees more mixed-use development, downtown revitalization, and campus integration with the city.

One such example is the partnership between Arizona State University (ASU) and the City of Phoenix that resulted in the establishment of the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus in 2006. With voters approving a $223 million bond, the City of Phoenix acquired 18 acres of land in the downtown to begin the construction of the campus. Today the Downtown Phoenix campus serves more than 8,000 students and is projected to reach 15,000 students in the next decade. The downtown campus focuses on connecting with educational, cultural, and nonprofit organizations and furthers the “public mission of ASU and a commitment to the social and economic advancement of the many diverse communities of the metropolitan region.” A symbiotic relationship has formed as the university and city meet their shared agenda.

For instance, the ASU College of Public Programs, Nursing and Healthcare Innovation has moved downtown and partners with the Grace Lutheran Church in a program called Breaking the Cycle Community Health Care. This program provides family planning and other health care services to those in the area’s low-income Hispanic community who do not have health insurance. It also receives grants from the Arizona Department of Health Services.  Another ASU program, the American Dream Academy, enables immigrant parents with poor English skills to help their children graduate from high school. The program involves partnering with area schools and has served parents of more than 25,000 students. The university benefits from these programs too, as they enable ASU students to gain hands on experience and easy access to institutions and facilities in the city.

The ASU Downtown Phoenix campus has received the C. Peter Magarth University Community Engagement Award two times. The partnership between ASU and the City of Phoenix has also helped to create jobs, increase public revenue, private investment, and educational opportunities and improve social services. To read the 2010 City Council Report on the ASU Downtown Phoenix Campus click here or visit the city’s webpage for more information.

Other helpful web resources and documents on the Knowledge Network include:

  • The International Town and Gown Association strives to further town and gown partnerships, and provides resources for local government and university officials, academics, community members and students to facilitate collaboration.
  • Several local government professionals shared their thoughts in response to a Knowledge Network question, Successful Partnerships Between Local Governments and Universities.
  • Town – University Partnerships and Projects  lists the many projects that illustrate the collaboration between the Town of Mansfield and the University of Connecticut in areas of finance, health, library, planning, school districts and more.   
  • An article from ICMA’s Public Management magazine called New and Valuable University Partnerships discusses the partnership between management practitioners and School of Policy, Planning and Development of the University of Southern California to prepare future local government leaders.
  • Making Cities Livable Through Place Marketing describes how students in the Urban and Regional Planning Studies Institute program at Minnesota State University, together with students from South Central College North Mankato engaged with the city of Janesville, Minnesota to create a place-making plan.