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The year 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the City of Portland's 1972 Downtown Plan, one of the most consequential plans in the city's history. It put in place a vision for a public, pedestrian-scaled, multipurpose, and vital downtown.

Through the requirements adopted in the Downtown Plan and subsequent public and private investments stemming from it, Portland's core area became an international icon for central city recovery. That plan also formally identified Portland State University as the city's "urban university."

This paper begins with an examination of the history of the urban university idea in the United States, followed by the presentation of a working definition for what an urban university is today. It then examines the way that being an urban university has been baked into PSU’s identity from its very beginning, and ends with some thoughts about where we might go from here.


Ethan Seltzer, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus and the former Director of Portland State University's Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning. He has also served as director of PSU's Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies.

Kimberly Nightingale, MA, is (as of this publication in 2022) a Ph.D. candidate in Urban and Public Affairs at PSU. She is the former creator, executive director, and publisher of the Saint Paul Almanac.

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