Looking for Heroes

Last month's issue of Governing (in other news, I am a nerd) had a series of articles on gentrification.  I was too busy to get to it til this past weekend but was eager to dive into this thorny issue.  Alas, I was somewhat disappointed at the warmed-over coverage.  There were too many lofty platitudes and vague prescriptions, and not enough hard-hitting ideas. 

I did like Mark Funkhouser's idea of  "higher education relations officer," or as he deemed it, a HERO.  The significant economic footprint of universities in localities seems to beg for active engagement, to make sure that what universities are pursuing can be synchronized with what is good for local economies.  After all, there is the possibility for great synergy, but only if actively pursued.  Universities and localities do share similar aims, but are fundamentally different kinds of entities seeking different kinds of outcomes, so there's a big difference between meeting up and working together on the one hand, and not connecting and going separate ways on the other.

There is an irony in the fact that Funkhouser's column appeared in the gentrification issue.  More and more universities understand that, as anchor institutions, they are literally stuck where they are, so thee is enlightened self-interest in being the sort of neighbor that improves a community.  But in some cases, those improvements are the very catalysts for gentrification.  Here in my very own University City neighborhood, whether Penn is to be sainted or slammed for all it's invested in around here is a daily debate.  And this very ebb and flow is being played out in scores of other places where campus and community touch. 

That's a discussion for a longer time.  But the fact that that discussion is so rich, so fraught, and so potentially positive, does argue for more of Funkhouser's "heroes." 
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