Urban Wire Anchor institutions in Chicago step up
Erika C. Poethig, Emily Blumenthal
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Last week, eight universities across Chicago partnered with the city to increase economic opportunities and jobs in neighborhoods across the city. The universities each entered into separate Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) that outlined anticipated investments in local neighborhoods and a mutual commitment for universities to further engage with city leadership and local communities to bolster economic growth and opportunity.

The move reflects the kind of collaboration between cities and anchor institutions that we highlighted in Striking a (Local) Grand Bargain. The paper, coauthored with Neil Kleiman at New York University’s Wagner School and developed in partnership the National Resource Network, identifies strategies for better alignment between cities and anchor institutions to drive growth and prosperity.

These recently signed agreements in Chicago aim to strengthen the role these anchor institutions play as engines of opportunity for neighborhoods across the city. It is not a novel concept: cities have long leveraged partnerships to respond to local challenges and bolster economic resiliency and growth. Today, cities often turn to anchor institutions, like colleges, universities, and hospitals, which are the lead nongovernmental employer in most metropolitan areas, as partners in efforts to boost economic resiliency and development.

Currently, relationships between cities and their anchor institutions are often episodic, predicated on one-off transactions around campus expansions or other real estate decisions. In Striking a (Local) Grand Bargain, we recommend cities and anchors forge ongoing, long-term partnerships around shared interests and goals in order to bolster inclusive economic growth.

Among the institutions who signed an MOU with the city last week was the University of Chicago, which continues to actively pursue partnerships with city and local stakeholders. The MOU signed this week builds upon a similar agreement the University signed in 2011. This kind of ongoing dialogue and collaboration exemplifies the long-term partnerships we highlighted in our paper that foster high-impact cross-sector engagement that ultimately promote cooperation, transparency, and inclusivity.

The group of institutions who signed separate MOUs with the city is comprised of an array of colleges and universities situated in geographically, racially, and socio-economically diverse neighborhoods across the city. In addition to the University of Chicago, the institutions include DePaul University, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University, Northwestern University, Rush University, the School of the Art Institute, and the University of Illinois-Chicago. 

It is encouraging to see a cohort of colleges and universities actively engaging with civic leadership and committing to local economic development. The test will be whether these relationships continue to cultivate community engagement and leverage investments that expand economic growth and opportunities, especially for low-income Chicagoans and neighborhoods. 


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Research Areas Neighborhoods, cities, and metros
Policy Centers Research to Action Lab