Workshop | DISTFest – Friday, October 22nd 2021

Cities and Universities
Socio-spatial dynamics of a complex relations and their implications for urban policies

Organized by:
Loris Servillo and Samantha Cenere (DIST, Politecnico di Torino)

Jean-Paul Addie (Georgia State University)
Louise Kempton (Newcastle University)
Daniel Malet Calvo (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa)
Silvia Mugnano (University of Milano Bicocca)
Nick Revington (Institut national de la recherche scientifique in Montreal)
Antonio Paolo Russo (Universitat Rovira i Virgili)

The phrase “town and gown” once used to describe the relationship between universities and the urban context in which they are located implies an understanding of the two as separate spheres. However, it is increasingly evident that complex, indirect, and hidden entanglements characterised the city-university nexus within the global paradigm of the knowledge economy. Universities may be seen as urban developers whose action impacts substantially on the built environment. Their capacity to implement an attractive and competitive educational offer and research environment triggers the arrival of students and academics from other regions and countries, thus transforming the demographic profile of a city. Through the attraction of highly mobile, cosmopolitan, and skilled populations, universities indirectly contribute to activate new urban economies that span from a new retail offer to the transformation of the housing market. These and other examples of how universities have become one of the most powerful actors of urban transformations will be discussed at the workshop Cities and universities. Socio-spatial dynamics of a complex relationship and their implications for urban policies.
Through the contribution of various international experts, the workshop will offer a wide range of perspectives on the complex university-city nexus, showing how the urban effects of universities activity are not limited to their capacity to function as providers of skilled workforces and as research centres contributing to regional economic development. The massification and commodification of university education, the mantra of global competitiveness, and the imperative for cities of being attractive lay at the core of heterogeneous urban processes that Higher Education institutions participate in activating. These processes encompass the transformation of the housing market, urban renewal interventions at the neighborhood scale, changes in the retailscape of a specific area, and the opening of private student residences.
However, these processes may reveal another side of the coin, constituted by spatial, socio-economic and cultural inequalities, both on an urban scale and within those areas particularly affected by these transformations. These could emerge in multiple forms, such as conflicts over the use of public space between students and residents; the replacement of services of general interest aimed at the resident population with others designed for a highly mobile population; difficult access to affordable accommodation; displacement, etc. To what extent the production of urban spaces linked to the increasing relevance of universities within global knowledge capitalism and interurban competition may be balanced by the pursuit of inclusive, sustainable, and just cities?
These questions and issues resonate with the Sustainable Development Goal 11 and build a bridge between the workshop and a research project on the urban effects and exclusionary dynamics related to university student mobilities, conducted by the DIST team of the Horizon2020 project “SMARTDEST. Cities as mobility hubs. Tackling social exclusion through smart citizen engagement”

For live streaming please register to:

Click here for the full program