Journal of Comparative Urban Law and Policy


University urban design and research centers, which link academic pedagogy and research activities to real-world projects, have grown in number over the last several decades. As the rate of urbanization accelerates and universities’ missions become increasingly grounded in visible impact and financial self-sufficiency, these centers continue to offer an important and appealing model. This paper looks at the evolution of these centers from their beginnings in the 1950s, advancement in the 1980s, resurgence in the first decade of the 2000s, and current growing status. From a survey of over fifty centers throughout the United States, a typology is established based on the dominant activity of each center: Advocate, Consultant, Educator, and Scholar. Case studies from each mode are examined at greater depth. Overall, this paper finds continued growth in the number of these centers and a recent broadening of involvement by a diversity of academic and professional disciplines. Given this expansion, this paper is a tool for emerging centers to frame their missions within an established typology and gain best practices. Across all modes, universal challenges include: sustained funding, administrative support, and clarifying student and community roles. As both universities and cities face new paradigms of growth and financial sustenance, models of the university urban design and research center will hold relevance as a vehicle to engage, articulate, and find solutions to the challenges within our multilayered communities.

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