Mayors, experts in town to explore new species of city

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Tomorrow, there will be three mayors plus a city administrator in town … Mayor Jim Gray, of course; but also Mayor Chris Beutler from Lincoln, Nebraska; Mayor Wade Troxell, from Ft. Collins, Colorado; plus, City Administrator Howard Lazarus, from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

They’re here for a conference to talk about University Cities, a new species of city that has not been identified and studied until now. Lexington is one of 6 “University cities” being celebrated and explored. Madison, Wisconsin, and Durham, North Carolina, round out the six.

“University Cities have outgrown their college-town status and created dynamic economies around major research universities in their urban cores,” Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said. "What results are cities that seem purpose-built for the 21st Century economy, with all the opportunities and challenges that come along with that."

University Cities share a singular DNA that produces a constellation of magical effects: highly educated populations, innovative economies with high rates of entrepreneurship, outsized arts and culture sectors, and large nonprofit sectors that indicate a vibrant civil society. These traits mirror the large, coastal cities, but in University Cities they happen in mid-sized cities with low unemployment, low-cost living, and extremely low violent crime rates.

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto will explore the concept of University Cities from UK’s perspective in his speech at the Conference, which will be held Friday at Gatton Business College on the University of Kentucky campus. “Since the University’s founding, the futures of UK and Lexington have been inextricably linked,” President Capilouto said. “The engines of innovation in a 21st Century economy are our University Cities, where the nexus of public research, a robust economy, healthy creative class, and high ambitions drive a shared agenda.”

Other speakers include Ed Glaeser, a Harvard professor and author of “Triumph of the City”; Omar Blaik, an expert in campus edge planning; and Ken Troske, a UK professor and Kentucky’s leading labor economist. A speaker from the Brookings Institution will explore the idea of University-anchored innovation districts. And representatives from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Knight Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation – leaders in providing funding to cities that deploy innovative solutions to difficult problems – will talk about impact philanthropy in creative cities.

The program also includes a mayor’s forum; a case study of Ann Arbor by the University of Michigan; and a policy swap between Lincoln and Ft. Collins.

“We share strengths and we share challenges with these cities,” Gray said. “This is a great opportunity to learn from and strengthen each other.”

  • Studies show the nation’s University Cities have a lot in common:
  • Their population ranges between 250,000 and 1 million. Students make up more than 10 percent of the population.
  • Residents on average are more highly educated than other cities of the same size.
  • Their economic growth outpaces cities of the same size, and displays more innovation, adaptability, and entrepreneurship.
  • There are more arts and cultural resources than cities of the same size or even the nation's largest cities.
  • They have lower crime rates than other cities of the same size.


The Conference is sponsored by the City of Lexington, UK’s Gaines Center for the Humanities, the Knight Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.​​​​

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