Meagan Ehlenz,doctoral candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke about anchor institutions in a practice job talk. Her research emphasized the dynamics of urban revitalization and neighborhood change. She primarily addressed her main research question of “revitalization for whom?” and explored the ways community wealth-building practices can be integrated into conventional policy mechanisms. Prior to pursuing her PhD, she worked as both a planning consultant and a senior planner for the City of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development.
Urban universities have long, often contentious, histories in their neighborhoods, characterized by demolition, displacement, and expansion. Since the 1990s, however, some have pursued a fundamentally different kind of intervention, emphasizing neighborhood revitalization at a time when central cities were in decline. Yet, even as the popular press anoints universities (and other anchor institutions) as the saviors of cities, these strategies invoke questions about the economic, social, and political responsibilities of universities within their neighborhoods. To date, university administrators and scholars do not understand the potential benefits, or harms, generated by institutional interventions, nor how they are distributed across a neighborhood. Meagan Ehlenz will present her research on university neighborhood interventions, examining the types of institutions pursuing this work and the kinds of investments they are making. She will discuss the real and perceived outcomes of university neighborhood investments over a twenty-year period and offer a framework for understanding — and evaluating — these policies moving forward.