Pursuing the Anchor Mission in a Fragmented Suburban Setting

  • Karl Guenther University of Missouri-St. Louis
  • Todd Swanstrom University of Missouri-St. Louis
  • Thomas F. George University of Missouri-St. Louis
Keywords: anchor institutions, capacity building, collective action, community improvement, asset-based community development


Increasingly, suburban universities find themselves in communities facing challenges that inner cities have had to deal with for decades, including concentrated poverty, housing vacancy, and underperforming school districts. While the problems are similar, the institutional context is different. Compared to central cities, suburban municipal governments generally lack the resources necessary to sustain robust community economic development initiatives. Further, suburbs often lack the rich landscape of nonprofit organizations that were built up over many decades in central cities. This article reflects on the experience of the University of Missouri-St. Louis as a case study of a suburban anchor institution. This experience suggests that anchor institutions in suburban settings need to focus on asset-based community development, support collective action among fragmented institutions, and build the civic capacity of local governments, nonprofits, and businesses.

Author Biographies

Todd Swanstrom, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Todd F. Swanstrom, Ph.D., is the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor in Community Collaboration and Public Policy. Dr. Swanstrom has authored books and articles in urban politics, public policy, and neighborhood revitalization. His co-authored Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-first Centurywon the Michael Harrington Award from the American Political Science Association. Todd has dedicated his endowed professorship to applied research and efforts to improve the St. Louis region’s community development system.

Thomas F. George, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Thomas F. George, Ph.D., served as chancellor and professor of chemistry and physics at the University of Missouri–St. Louis from 2003 until his retirement in 2019.  As chancellor, he oversaw UMSL’s academic and administrative operations with 17,000 students, 2,500 faculty and staff, and a $200 million annual operating budget. Chancellor George served as president of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities from 2016 to 2018.


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