Universities and Urban Social Structure: Gentrification, Studentification, and Youthification in Legacy Cities

Authors: Austin Zwick*, Syracuse University, Maxwell Hartt, Cardiff University, Nick Revington, University of Waterloo
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Economic Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: gentrification, studentification, youthification, legacy cities, urban decline, urban revitalization, universities neighborhood change
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 1:45 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Agate C, Hyatt Regency, Third Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Many US legacy cities have sought to grow population, jobs, and incomes to reverse both the narratives and realities of population and economic decline. There is increasing recognition universities play an important role in shaping the social geographies of their cities. A growing body of scholarship recognizes that the gentrification of near-campus neighborhoods, for instance, may displace the residents that university-led urban revitalization initiatives are meant to benefit. Universities are also associated with other distinct, but overlapping, neighborhood social transformations, such as “studentification” or “youthification.” Studentification refers to the concentration of university students, either in shared rental housing in the “student ghetto” or in luxury purpose-built accommodations. Youthification, meanwhile, describes the increasing concentration of young adults in higher-density urban areas, partly as a function of housing and job market constraints. To date, studentification and youthification remain sparsely studied in the American urban context, and little is known about these processes in the context of declining/shrinking cities or smaller centers farther down the urban hierarchy. We address this lacuna through a longitudinal analysis of overlapping processes of gentrification, studentification, and youthification and their connections to universities between 1980 and 2010 in the MSAs of five legacy cities, drawing on data from the US Census and American Community Survey. We find that links between these processes differ both among the five MSAs, and in comparison to studies of larger strong-market cities. Our results therefore provide detailed insight into the impacts of universities on urban social structure with implications for anchor-led revitalization strategies.

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