The Rise of Anchor Institutions and the Threat to Community Health: Protecting Community Wealth, Building Community Power

  • Lawrence T. Brown Temple University Press
  • Ashley Bachelder
  • Marisela B. Gomez
  • Alicia Sherrell
  • Imani Bryan


Academic institutions are increasingly playing pivotal roles in economic development and community redevelopment in cities around the United States. Many are functioning in the role of anchor institutions and building technology, biotechnology, or research parks to facilitate biomedical research. In the process, universities often partner with local governments, implementing policies that displace entire communities and families, thereby inducing a type of trauma that researcher Mindy Thompson Fullilove has termed “root shock.” 

We argue that displacement is a threat to public health and explore the ethical implications of university-led displacement on public health research, especially the inclusion of vulnerable populations into health-related research. We further explicate how the legal system has sanctioned the exercise of eminent domain by private entities such as universities and developers.

Strategies that communities have employed in order to counter such threats are highlighted and recommended for communities that may be under the threat of university-led displacement. We also offer a critical look at the three dominant assumptions underlying university-sponsored development: that research parks are engines of economic development, that deconcentrating poverty via displacement is effective, and that poverty is simply the lack of economic or financial means. Understanding these fallacies will help communities under the threat of university-sponsored displacement to protect community wealth, build power, and improve health.