Mobilizing New Urban Structures to Increase the Performance and Effect of R&D in Universities and Beyond

Researchers: Prof. Roger Keil (York University), Prof. Kris Olds (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Jean-Paul Addie (York University)

Universities and cities are often perceived to be in a symbiotic, if sometimes problematic relationship. Boston’s economic success has often been credited to the strength of its region’s universities. Silicon Valley has been called a spin-off of innovative research done at Stanford University. The University of Waterloo has been portrayed as a product and propeller of smart urban development in the tri-city region of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo (Gillmor 2012). Cities and towns have been called parts of ecosystems of the new IT revolution that also “combine a university, an educated populace, a dynamic business community (Friedman 2012). University based research has now been officially recognized as a growing point of reference in the Canadian courts (Peters 2012). The term “town and gown” has often been used to capture this rapport. In economic geography, cities have recently been discussed in the context of innovation through creative economies that are often seen as a direct consequence of particular socio-spatial arrangements. The creative class is considered to be key driver of innovation and economic development (Florida 2002). Urban regions overall have been described as the key locations of growing economies (Glaeser 2011). Moreover, global city regions have been seen as both the location of innovation-relevant industries in producer services  and the seedbed of societal and technological innovation and renewal (Brenner & Keil 2006; Olds 2007).

This project will examine the current body of literature on "learning regions" and the effects of R&D on firms, networks of firms, regions, general urban and regional competitiveness. Specific attention will be given to the relationships of space, (sub)urbanization, regionalization and reterritorialization with the performance of university based R&D in real spatial economies, i.e. networks of firms, connections with (local) state agencies, global production networks, etc. Among the chief sources will be international comparative reports such as the “OECD Territorial Reviews” (of which there is one of Toronto, for example) and the one on “Higher education in regional and city development” (OECD, n.d.). Information will be gathered from municipal websites, economic development agencies in cities and regions, corporate reports, publications by think tanks and major journalistic efforts, in addition to social media sites such as twitter and blogs. Research will focus primarily on case studies in Amsterdam, NL, Chicago, IL, Madison, WI, Toronto, ON, and New York City, NY.

The results of this research project will be disseminated through written reports, presentations, publication in academic journals and through popular media (blogs and op-eds).

You can read the report here and the final article, Beyond Town and Gown: Universities, Territoriality and the Mobilization of New Urban Structures in Canada, can also be found here.

"Universities should maximize their role as city-builders" by Jean-Paul Addie & Roger Keil (May 7, 2014)


This project has been made possible through a financial contribution from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the Government of Canada.




Brenner, N., Keil, R. (Eds.). (2006). The Global Cities Reader. New York: Routledge.
Florida, R. (1995). Toward the learning region. Futures, vol. 27(5), 527-536.
Friedmann, T.L. (2012, January 3). So Much Fun. So Irrelevant. The New York Times.
Gillmor, D. (2012, January/February). The Invention of Waterloo. The Walrus,  vol. 9(1), 44-49.
Glaeser, E.L. (2011). Triumph of the city:how our greatest invention makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier. New York: Penguin Press.
Olds, K. (2007) ‘Global assemblage: Singapore, Western universities, and the construction of a global education hub’, World Development, 35(6): 959-975.
Peters, D. (2012, January). Research Rising. University Affairs/Affaires Universitaires, vol. 53(1), 18-23.