Do downtown university campuses contribute to mid-size city downtown revitalization? A comparative case study of Kitchener and Cambridge, Ontario
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The purpose of this research is to understand if and how downtown university campuses contribute to mid-size city downtown revitalization, how this contribution is measured, and the implications for planning practice and planning theory. To address this research question, a mixed methods approach was used which included a literature review, the use of two case studies, a survey administered to downtown businesses, a web-based survey administered to students, faculty and staff and interviews conducted with municipal planners. The two case studies were: Wilfrid Laurier University’s Faculty of Social Work (WLU FSW) in downtown Kitchener, Ontario and the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture (UW SA) in downtown Cambridge, Ontario. The findings of this research indicate that downtown university campuses do contribute to downtown revitalization in mid-size cities. The WLU FSW and UW SA campuses are not, however, a panacea for their respective downtowns, nor are they significant contributors to downtown retailing or a major catalyst. Rather, the WLU FSW and UW SA campuses act as stabilizing influences on the downtown, bringing confidence to and about the downtown for residents, potential downtown visitors and potential downtown investors. They are examples of revitalization strategies that contribute to the improved reputation of the downtown and city. They are strategies that build on existing downtown strengths (e.g. adaptive re-use of heritage buildings, the complementing of existing businesses and services) and they are part of a larger community vision for these downtowns. The WLU Faculty of Social Work campus and the UW School of Architecture campus are both examples of effective and successful university-community partnerships. Recommendations based on the findings of this research are provided for municipalities, planning practitioners and academics. This research contributes to the limited but expanding literature on mid-size cities, mid-size city downtown revitalization and university-community partnerships. Recommendations for further research are also provided.