Building the Ivory Tower: Universities and Metropolitan Development in the Twentieth Century

Building the Ivory Tower: Universities and Metropolitan Development in the Twentieth Century

Building the Ivory Tower: Universities and Metropolitan Development in the Twentieth Century

Building the Ivory Tower: Universities and Metropolitan Development in the Twentieth Century


Today, universities serve as the economic engines and cultural centers of many U.S. cities, but how did this come to be? In Building the Ivory Tower, LaDale Winling traces the history of universities' relationship to the American city, illuminating how they embraced their role as urban developers throughout the twentieth century and what this legacy means for contemporary higher education and urban policy.

In the twentieth century, the federal government funded growth and redevelopment at American universities--through PWA construction subsidies during the Great Depression, urban renewal funds at mid-century, and loans for student housing in the 1960s. This federal aid was complemented by financial support for enrollment and research, including the GI Bill at the end of World War II and the National Defense Education Act, created to educate scientists and engineers after the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik. Federal support allowed universities to implement new visions for campus space and urban life. However, this growth often put these institutions in tension with surrounding communities, intensifying social and economic inequality, and advancing knowledge at the expense of neighbors.

Winling uses a series of case studies from the Progressive Era to the present day and covers institutions across the country, from state schools to the Ivy League. He explores how university builders and administrators worked in concert with a variety of interests--including the business community, philanthropists, and all levels of government--to achieve their development goals. Even as concerned citizens and grassroots organizers attempted to influence this process, university builders tapped into the full range of policy and economic tools to push forward their vision. Block by block, road by road, building by building, they constructed carefully managed urban institutions whose economic and political power endures to this day.


Harvard University was on top of the educational world. in January 2007, administrators announced the plan for expanding their campus in the Allston neighborhood of Boston. the nation’s oldest institution of higher education had the largest endowment in the country and was financing a bold move to build scientific laboratories and an art museum across the Charles River from its traditional Cambridge campus. At that time, Boston was one of the centers of the new economy, with researchers, graduates, and entrepreneurs from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) composing much of its creative class. the New York Times pointed out that Harvard amenities would replace nothing more than “a gas station and a Dunkin’ Donuts” at Barry’s Corner, an industrial site and working-class neighborhood in Allston. Mayor Thomas Menino hailed the 2007 announcement for the Allston campus as the first step in making Harvard “the future of Boston.” Harvard’s ambition was central to the growth of the region. Contractors began clearing the site at the end of 2007.

The fall was steep. Two years later, Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust sent a letter out to the university’s deans in the midst of the economic crisis, announcing that the endowment, once $36 billion, had lost nearly a third of its value. There would be bud get cuts. the university instituted a faculty hiring freeze and halted construction on the new campus, leaving a hole in the Boston landscape. the nation’s wealthiest and most prestigious university had been laid low, its signature efforts to lead the nation in biological research were in embarrassing disarray, and a three-decade-long expansion initiative had stalled.

The proposed science and art complex in Allston represented the volatile potential of this new direction for growth in higher education. the increasing reliance on philanthropy to compensate for shrinking public support had . . .

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