Urban University Communities – They’re not just academic

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Good universities lend vitality to any community and American higher education is the envy of the world. Many university students, faculty, administrators and other staff reside in their university communities. Whether or not they reside in them they often patronize local businesses. University faculty and graduate students conduct fascinating, innovative research and successful graduates give back to their alma mater which often also helps the broader university community and society in general.

This May, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved plans for Curtis Granderson Stadium after UIC alum, community resident and New York Yankee center fielder Curtis Granderson pledged a $7 million new ballpark at UIC that will also benefit inner city youth. UIC’s College of Engineering just received $6.5 million from Loan and Rick Hill. Mr. Hill, a 1974 UIC bioengineering graduate, wants to help continue to make UIC a biotechnology powerhouse. The newly reconfigured and renamed UIC Loan and Rich Hill Department of Bioengineering will help accomplish that.

Some universities spin off substantial economic development by commercializing their intellectual property at university research parks. The Association of University Research Parks claims fifty-nine sustaining members. They range from the venerable Research Triangle Foundation in Raleigh, North Carolina to the David Johnston Research and Technology Park at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. South of the border, the Instituto de Innovacion y Transferencia de Tecnologia in Monterrey Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and the National Engineering University Julio Padilla Mendez Technology Park in Managua, Nicaragua are sustaining members. Even the Middle East is represented by the KAUST Research Park in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Closer to home, University Technology Park at the Illinois Institute of Technology is the only sustaining member from Illinois, but University Research Park at the University of Wisconsin at Madison is a sustaining member as is the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Milwaukee is a great Midwestern city. Its urban university community near the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee is woven into a city fabric of a thriving art and music scene, wonderful residential, municipal government and other civic architecture, good restaurants, nice people, interesting topography, and a beautiful lakefront. Milwaukee city planners use its river fronts better than Chicago planners use the branches of the Chicago River. Interesting residential development along its three rivers – the Kinnickinnic, the Milwaukee and the Menomonee – including developments along the beautiful Milwaukee River Walk which runs through the historic Third Ward, where the Milwaukee Public Market is located, lend an exciting, progressive and human scale to this city from which Chicago planners might learn a thing or two.

UIC might likewise learn a thing or two from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. UIC has made tremendous progress in making its campuses more inviting and integrating them into its broader community. The UIC South Campus is one of the most exciting more recent large-scale developments in Chicago and UIC has taken a much more prominent role in the governance of the Illinois Medical District where the UIC Incubator Laboratory Facility in the Chicago Technology Park (CTP) – which claims to be one of the oldest and one of the largest biotech incubator laboratory facilities in the United States – is located. UIC Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares recently launched the UIC Chancellor’s Innovation Fund Proof of Concept Award Program. It’s clear that great things are happening at UIC but the physical condition of the UIC campuses could better reflect all this progress. UIC could to do more to make our gateway intersections and other parts of the campus more welcoming with landscaping and more effective and better maintained way-finding and other signage. Increased routine and capital maintenance standards for UIC buildings would also help better reflect the tremendous progress the university has made.