Put More Colleges in Downtown

Back when I was searching for a job, I signed up for a lot of email alerts that I never bothered to unsubscribe to. Now, though I’m not looking for a new job, I like reading the emails because they’re a treasure trove of information about how companies market their cities to potential employees. For example, some companies emphasize their region’s outdoors opportunities, proximity to beaches, culture and food, etc.

So earlier this week, I clicked on a job posting for a reporter position in Greensboro, North Carolina. I currently have no interest in becoming a reporter in Greensboro, but I found this description relevant here:

We’ve got great weather here in Greensboro, N.C, if you’re willing to wink at the occasional thunder and ice storm, in an area that has universities and is friendly to outdoor pursuits. And we’re just a few hours’ drive from both beach and mountains.

That sounded nice so I read a little bit more about Greensboro. As it turns out, it’s just over twice as big as Provo. It has several schools and universities, cool art projects like Elsewhere, and coincidentally is the home base for Kristen E. Jeffers, the woman behind the wonderful blog The Black Urbanist. And given the size and diversity of Greensboro, it’s the kind of city that offers many lessons for Provo.

One of those lessons comes from the job description above. The city apparently has “universities,” plural, which can be a major incentive for young, educated job seekers looking for cities with a vibrant cultural scene. From Wikipedia, I learned that the city actually has seven colleges or universities, plus some for-profit schools.

Among Greensboro’s schools is Elon Law school, which opened in downtown in 2006. Apparently, the school has had a positive impact on the city:

In a video presentation describing the six priorities, Ed Wolverton, President and CEO of Downtown Greensboro Incorporated, says the students and faculty of Elon Law have made significant contributions to the region’s economy and its community life.

“We’ve seen with the infusion of Elon Law school that’s brought over 300 students to downtown, almost 100 faculty members, who really have become part of our downtown community . . . they really are a great economic generator,” Wolverton says.

Wikipedia perhaps put it even better:

Downtown Greensboro also has experienced a dramatic increase in nightlife with the opening of numerous nightclubs, bars and restaurants. The entire redevelopment of the downtown was aided by the 2006 opening of the Elon University School of Law. The law school is credited with bringing student dollars to the downtown both day and at night. Moreover, the influx of nearly 300 highly educated men and women from across the country has added to the cosmopolitanism of the downtown.

The message here is that education makes a major contribution to the local economy. Greensboro evidently shows the importance of strategically placing education centers in a downtown area, as well as the broader benefits of having multiple institutions of higher learning in one city. That’s similar to the argument I made back in March in this post, when I wrote that the most prosperous cities often have more than one or two universities.

Provo desperately needs more student dollars in downtown. The situation has improved with the growth of new restaurants and cultural venues, but the biggest problem continues to be that Utah County colleges remain distant from the city center.

Greensboro offers Provo a radical solution: add more institutions of higher learning and put them in downtown. That’s a slow and costly process, but it’s one based on the success of thriving multi-college cities everywhere. Given Utah’s unique cultural affinity for altruism, education, and community, it’s also something that should be feasible.


Filed under Development, Provo

4 responses to “Put More Colleges in Downtown

  1. I’d love to see an art school in downtown Provo. Some sort of RISD-type outfit.

  2. Pingback: Higher Education and a Thriving City | (pro(vo)cation)

  3. Pingback: The Benefits of Schools and Industry | (pro(vo)cation)

  4. Pingback: Centrally Located Schools Benefit Cities | (pro(vo)cation)

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