Leiden Law Blog

Law and the City

Law and the City

Many universities used to be institutions that served purely academic goals of teaching and research without any visible connection to the region they are part of. Nowadays they are, much more than in the past, expected to engage with other institutions or stakeholders in the city or the region. Universities are not high in the clouds somewhere; they are rooted in a specific city and region. They are a people-intensive type of organisation, to begin with: you need a lot of people, academics and supporting staff, to run a university. And because many of them are well educated and well paid, they and their families spend money in the community. Universities also come with students. They, too, live in the city or its region and contribute to the local economy.

Other sources of economic impact are the goods and services connected with research and education; impacts associated with industrial investment connected to research, e.g. a science park; or impacts associated with the output from research activity, such as benefits of licensing and the impact of spin-off and start-up companies. Higher education may also have an impact on local tourism: think, e.g., of family and friends visiting international students, as well as the graduates returning to the university they once studied in later years. Academic conferences and other events hosted in the city or its region also have a major impact on local and regional tourism. Recent research into the Leiden situation shows that investing in education and research is extremely profitable in financial terms, with a multiplier of 3.9; for each euro invested the return is almost 4 Euros.

However, it is not only the economy that matters. Since Charles Landry’s book, The Creative City, appeared in 2000, a new planning paradigm has emerged for cities all over the world. Globally, more than half of all people live in cities nowadays, and their number is growing. The concept suggests that conditions need to be created for people to think and to act with imagination in addressing urban problems. The concept of Landry’s idea was supported by a second book, in 2001, The Creative Economy, by John Howkins on how ideas are transformed in terms of money and prosperity. In 2002 a third book appeared, The Rise of the Creative Class, by Richard Florida. This book, which turned out to be a best-seller, describes the creative class in the U.S. as comprising of 40 million workers—30% of the U.S. workforce.

What specific community impact can law schools have? That may range, I think, from quite  basic things – such as do you allow the local public to use the law library or your premises? – to more fundamental activities, for instance by setting up law clinics with law professors and students dedicated to making justice more accessible to local citizens. This sort of engagement can enhance the core missions of teaching and research – the region serves as a laboratory for research. A telling example is a study by Leiden criminology students of rave violence in Leiden as compared to other university cities (outcome: less violent incidents in Leiden than elsewhere).

Other impacts include public lectures by the academics, local debates or think-tanks where their areas of academic expertise overlap with areas of public interest or concern, law festivals, law students and their professors actively engaging in local political bodies and committees, so on and so forth.

Do readers of this blog have other successful examples of how law schools contribute to the places they are physically rooted in? What role, e.g., can law schools play in the midst of multicultural cities such as The Hague, London, or New York; or in cities and townships like Mumbai, Jakarta or Johannesburg?

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