Innovation Districts and Housing Discrimination

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Blog Post
Title Innovation Districts and Housing Discrimination
Author Anne Dayton
Series Innovation Districts
Content status Idea
Publication date
©, 2016

This post posits that historic housing discrimination, particularly "redlining," inadvertently contributed to the development of innovation districts decades later in northern U.S. cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cambridge, MA, Philadelphia, and Detroit.

This hypothesis is based on the observation that the area immediately surrounding Rice University is a high-income residential area while the areas near "peer institutions" in the midwest and northeast tend to have been low-income residential areas that may have experienced gentrification in recent decades (University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University). This gentrification may have contributed to the creation and subsequent success of innovation districts near these locations.

To test this hypothesis, more information about the areas near major research universities, particularly private universities, will be need.

This project will focus on private, top-25 U.S. universities (per U.S. News & World Report) located in urban areas.

I theorize that this phenomenon, if it exists, would not affect public top-25 universities as much because:

1) These universities tend to be land-grant institutions that were created in rural, not urban areas, although the surrounding "college town" may have subsequently become urban or suburban.

2) Public institutions due not usually have the same ability to buy adjacent land as private institutions. Many private institutions purchase adjacent real estate as part of endowment investment or to prevent undesirable neighbors.

3) Land-grant public institutions were designed to make higher education more accessible to non elite (in most cases, white) students. My argument is that the neighborhoods around segregated southern private schools developed into desirable neighborhoods for high-income residents or in the other cases, these institutions were deliberately placed near the wealthy neighborhoods they drew from.

A segregated, all-white institution may have also led to the development of a middle to high income residential area as professors and other professionals bought or built housing nearby. This appears to be what happened near Rice University

Data Needs

1. Demographic and economic information about areas near major private universities.

2. McNair Ctr data on indicators of innovation & entrepreneurship in these areas such as clinical trials, patents, NIH, SBIR, VC investment, location of startup firms, etc.


What are the differences historically and currently about the neighborhoods near Emory and Georgia Tech versus those near Spelman and Morehouse?

Georgia Tech is public university that helped develop Technology Square, an innovation district. (Wikipedia article: Technology Square was financed by the Georgia Tech Foundation, a private, 501c3 ( which supports my hypothesis above that this type of development is easier to do with private instead of public money.

Neighborhood near Morehouse and Spelman, known as Atlanta University Center (AUC), has had high crime rate and may be gentrifying (see references below). AUC is also home to Clark-Atlanta University, which is also an HBCU.

Emory is in Druid Hills, which has a median household income of $238K per this website


Chicago has an extensive history of housing discrimination through reeling and blockbusting. However, it doesn't immediately appear that it would be a good example for the argument that innovation districts take hold areas were there has been housing discrimination because 1871 is located in Merchandise Mart, a commercial building that once had its own zip code & doesn't appear to have undergone a period of decline.


Story on Rice Management Co.'s development of Rice Village as high-end retail:

Neighborhood near Morehouse is "gentrifying"

2009 article about AUC being high crime

2014 article describing areas around Emory & Agnes Scott as residential

2016 article about Spelman's role in revitalization of Atlanta's westside