Lincoln, along with five other U.S. metros, is a new species of city, according to research conducted by Scott Shapiro, chief innovation officer for Mayor Jim Gray of Lexington, Kentucky. Named the “University City,” universities and their students make up a core demographic to these cities’ economy and civic life.
Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler attended a conference in Lexington on Friday, Oct. 13. The conference explored the ins and outs of what it means for Lincoln to be a “University City.”
Shapiro, one of the organizers of the Lexington conference, wrote an op-ed about the makeup of “University Cities.” To Shapiro, classifying a city is crucial to understanding its economy.
“Deeply understanding one’s city type should be at the core of a city’s long-term strategy, informing land-use planning, workforce development efforts, economic development initiatives, and, of course, budget priorities,” Shapiro said in the op-ed.
The six “University Cities” across the country are Lincoln; Lexington; Madison, Wisconsin; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Fort Collins, Colorado; and Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina. According to the analysis conducted by Arnold Stomberg, chairman of the statistics department at the University of Kentucky, these six cities have several things in common.
“Each of the six cities has a diversified economy around a major research university in its urban core and has college students making up at least 10 percent of its population,” Shapiro said in his op-ed. “These cities have populations now large enough to leverage — in ways that are not always obvious — the talent, investments, innovation, ideas, openness, culture and entrepreneurialism that naturally surround large institutions of higher education.”
To Beutler, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska Wesleyan University, Union College and Southeast Community College are postsecondary schools that are the “blood running through Lincoln’s veins.”
According to Beutler, UNL is the yin to Lincoln’s yang. Established just two years after Lincoln became the state capital, UNL has had significant economic impacts on Lincoln.
“We have essentially grown up together and have had enormous influence on each other,” Beutler said in an email. “UNL is part of our city’s identity.”
Beutler said UNL’s influence in Lincoln shows when the fall semester rolls around after a “very relaxed, laid-back” summer.
“It’s like flipping a switch,” he said. “There’s a different kind of energy in the air. The impact [universities] have on our quality of life is enormous.”
Beutler said he’s been active in forming a stronger bond with UNL.
“My administration has had a very positive and healthy relationships with UNL,” he said, “and I believe that has led to a strong city and a stronger university.”
That relationship has put UNL in a uniquely influential spot over the city of Lincoln, which Beutler thinks is a good thing.
“When you look at the enormous benefits of being a ‘University City,’ it’s clear that it’s in everyone’s best interests to continue to grow together as partners,” he said.
Beutler stresses the mutuality of the benefits between Lincoln and UNL. As UNL continues to expand in population and in the scale of its programs, Beutler said he looks forward to the continuing prosperity of the University City.
“The future does look very bright,” he said.