Health & Medical Research & the Revival of Urban Cores:

The Convergence of the Health Sciences, Education & Economic Development 

            Only 40 years ago, New York City was on the brink of bankruptcy. Today, some New Yorkers worry about a potential glut of rental units being built in Brooklyn; yes, Brooklyn.

Many of America’s older cities are undergoing something akin to a renaissance and establishing the foundations to prosper in the future. IHS Economics Group was charged by the technology company, Dell, to develop ways of measuring cities’ potential for growing in the future and their model produced the following list of “future-ready” cities:


Source:”Ranking America’s Most Future-Ready Cities

The three primary characteristics of Future Ready Economies are: the ability to attract people who are engaged in and open to lifelong learning that drives innovation; businesses that thrive in collaborative environments; and infrastructure that provides platforms for people to engage, collaborate, learn and innovate.

These characteristics underpin the growing affinity of health care, health and medical research (especially translational research), universities, and digital technology development for one another. Pittsburgh may well be the exemplar of how this convergence can help revive cities, but newer cities such as Houston and Tampa-Saint Petersburg are also leveraging planned proximity of health care and research providers.

Still, Pittsburgh is a good place to start in understanding the convergence. Known forever for the steel mills that fueled extraordinary wealth and more recently for the “immaculate reception” of the 1972 Steelers-versus-Raiders playoff football game, the city in 1983 was home to 17 per cent unemployment and emigrants at the rate of 4,000 per month. The steel mills were silent and divine intervention had not occurred again.

But at Carnegie Mellon, work was underway on the development of robotics able to explore the radioactive remains of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Fast forward to today and the research and education about robots going on at CMU – think self-driving cars – and one element of the catalyst that transformed Pittsburgh is easy to discern.

But a top-flight university alone (and Pittsburgh is home to several) could not by itself rejuvenate the city. The presence of $7 billion University of Pittsburgh Medical Center made it possible to diversify manufacturing into advanced metal alloys and surgical implants – think an aging society requiring hip and knee replacements – and the convergence of what the Brookings terms “the meds and eds” becomes a powerful catalyst.

For Houston, the Texas Medical Center (TCM) reflects the mindset that more is better, so as a result TCM is “the largest medical center in the world with one of the highest densities of clinical facilities for patient care, basic science, and translational research” and an annual budget of $20 billion. With institutes devoted to health policy, innovation, clinical research, genomics, and regenerative medicine, TMC’s scope produces reams of statistics:

§  54 institutions, including Baylor College of Medicine; University of Texas Medical Branch, Health Sciences Center at Houston, and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center; Texas A&M Health Sciences Center; Texas Heart Institute; Rice University; University of Houston; Texas Children’s Hospital; Sabin Vaccine Institute; Institute for Spirituality and Health; and others.

§  8 million patient visits per year; more than 180,000 surgeries performed annually; three-quarters of a million emergency room visits; 9,200 patient beds; 50 million square feet of developed space; and

§  the 8th-largest business district in the United States.

With a coterie of National Academy of Science members, TMC can compete globally for the best and the brightest talent, nationally for competitive National Institutes of Health research support grants, and for business and industry engagement in the development of medicines, devices, and treatments.

The University of South Florida seeks to replicate these success stories with its decision to locate the new medical college building and heart institute closer to downtown Tampa and the city’s hospitals and orthopedic institute and actually away from the University’s main campus. The proximity is seen as essential to helping recruit cardiovascular researchers, supporting clinical and translational research, and strengthening the competitive advantage of hospitals.

In one sense, the success and potential for success of these three cities serve to reinforce the notions of what makes cities flourish, harkening back to Richard Florida’s “the rise of the creative class.”

But in another sense, the convergence of the health sciences and higher education, on the one hand, and the economic and social health of cities, on the other, extends and refines the ways in which intellectual capital becomes the currency by which the sectors flourish respectively and enable revival of old cities and, perhaps, the emergence of new ones.




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