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Boston: A Center of Education, Research, and Innovation

Early Settlement and Historical Significance:

Boston, Massachusetts is one of the oldest and most historical cities in the United States. The city was founded in 1630 and was host to several important events in the American Revolution, including the Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. The historical significance of Boston has created many tourist attractions and brings 16.3 million visitors each year to experience historical attractions like the Freedom Trail, which is a walking path that snakes through sixteen historical sites throughout the city.

Post-Revolutionary Development:

After establishing itself as a prominent colonial city, Boston developed into a major shipping and manufacturing center. The city was home to many elite families, which helped the city as an international trade base. In the 1800’s, Boston, like many other cities on the eastern seaboard of the United States, experienced massive immigration from Europe. Immigration served to create ethnic neighborhoods and enclaves that remain in the city today. Extensive immigration from Ireland has helped label Boston as an Irish and Catholic city. The Catholic religion has also been prominent in Boston history and politics.

Physical Geography:

Boston is located along the Atlantic seaboard of the United States, and is therefore a port city. Boston Harbor and the Charles River are the important nautical areas of the city. The city encompasses roughly forty-eight square miles of land, which is a relatively small amount and therefore makes Boston a very population-dense city. The city rests just above sea level. Boston sits about 215 miles north of New York City and just 51 miles north of Providence, Rhode Island.

Founding of Great American Universities:

Harvard University was founded in 1636 and is the oldest college or university in the United States. Its rich history and influence in the world of higher education has made it a renowned worldwide institution. Other prominent institutions followed Harvard in establishing Boston as a center of higher education. Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, founded in 1863 and 1861, are two more valuable institutions that add to the rich academic atmosphere of Boston. Boston University was charted in 1869 as well. Numerous other liberal arts colleges are situated in Boston as well. The tradition of academic innovation and successful teaching and research continues today, and will be the primary subject of my research of Boston.


There are about 600,000 residents in Boston proper. The greater metropolitan area has 4.4 million residents, the 10th largest metro area in the United States. Population density is about 12,000/sq. mi., less than only New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. The Irish are the largest ethnic group in Boston, at 15%. About 20% of the population lives below the poverty line. For racial breakdown, see table below.

Racial Composition of Boston Population, 2000


% of Population

White, non-Hispanic






Asian American


Native American




Data from 2000 U.S. Census


Gentrification in the core of Boston has been a significant development in recent years. Rent control laws were relaxed which led to an increase in the prices of previously controlled units. They opened up to consumers willing to pay market-price, and higher-income residents subsequently moved into those units. Housing affordability in the city-center and some surrounding areas has created many problems for urban poor and homeless residents. Like in so many other major cities, dislocation of lower-income residents has occurred frequently.

Education, Research, and Innovation

The focus of my research is the sector of education and research in Boston. The city hosts many prominent educational institutions, with thousands of students enrolled. Considering its relatively small urban population, Boston has a disproportionately large amount of education, research, and development within the area. The large amount of high-tech academic and industry activity increases Boston’s linkages throughout the world. Of course, there are financial and business connections with other cities. But there are also thousands of networks through which academics and highly skilled technology employees and information moves through. With regards to Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class, Boston is one of the most successful cities in terms of creating a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere for the creative class. Important to note is that Florida’s creative class includes highly educated and highly paid engineers, scientists, and technology professionals. These professionals thrive in and around Boston and contribute invaluably to the local and regional economy. These professionals occupy the highest levels of the economy. They make up the tertiary and quaternary sectors of the economy. We have often discussed the necessity for global cities to have strong flows of information and communications, in response to the loss of manufacturing in the cities. Students and professionals are highly mobile, educated, creative, and dynamic (Rose, 2002). These are important adjectives in describing the populations that serve the global economy well in the 21st century. The large collection of universities complements the high-tech industries. Without one, the other would not thrive as much as they have. Boston ranked ninth in human capital and the seventh-best city to earn a degree in the 2008 global cities index. The human capital ranking shows how industries of knowledge are prominent in Boston. These types of industries are crucial for success in the global economy.

Universities can be critical players in economic development of regions. In Boston, universities have played a critical role in helping to development one of the largest clusters of biotechnology in the world. Biotechnology firms and the industry as a whole rely on university-based lab research, and the industry-university relationship is important in “commercializing university research” (Breznitz, 2008). MIT has been one of the leaders in promoting the industry-university partnership. When compared with Yale University in Breznitz’ 2008 study, MIT has spent more money on research and development ($374,680,000 vs. $224,939,000) and registered more patents per dollar (99 vs. 16) (Breznitz, 2008). MIT has produced and kept more biotechnology companies in the greater Boston area, while Yale has produced less and a higher percentage have left the area.

At MIT, practical and applicable research has been encouraged, while at Yale (before 1995, the beginning of the new university president’s term) was much more conservative with regards to research and consulting applicable to industry. 90% of biotechnology firms that are ‘spun out’ by MIT remain concentrated in the geographic area in and around Boston. A term described by Breznitz, “academic entrepreneur”, is very accurate in describing the MIT attitude towards teaching and research. Students and faculty are encouraged to develop applicable solutions to research problems, and to use these solutions in local industry. The Technology Licensing Office at MIT is an organization that captures the attitudes at this institution. They encourage scientists to quickly patent their work and also do an assessment of the market-value of their invention or solution. This is important because it makes the process move very quickly and encourages the process of university to industry movement. In addition, these ventures are often in very profitable areas of biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, so it is important for the economy that these innovations become a reality in the industry.

Boston’s status as a mid-level global city is important for building and retaining talented pools of scientists, researchers, lawyers, business people, etc. The fact that institutions like MIT and Harvard are set in and around a major city like Boston is crucial for retaining talented graduated. These graduates work in the highest sectors of the economy and contribute to the knowledge transfer. They are highly skilled and highly paid individuals. There is a strong, supportive surrounding environment for graduates of these prominent Boston-area universities.

Major Colleges and Universities

In the Boston Area


Enrollment (Including Graduate Students)





Boston College




Boston University






Works Cited:

Breznitz, Shiri (2008). ‘University Commercialization Strategies in the Development of Regional Bioclusters’, Product Innovation Management.

Kearney, A.T. (2008). ‘2008 Global Cities Index’, Foreign Policy.

Rose, Daniel (2002). ‘Servicing the Global City’, Real Estate Issues.

Sable, Michael (2006). ‘The impact of the biotechnology industry on local economic development in the Boston and San Diego metropolitan areas’, Science Direct.

Sieber, Tim (2002). ‘Growing income and housing inequalities in Boston’, Symphony of a City.


November 14, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. You’re off to a really good start here. In terms of your profile I would focus less on the physical geography and history and only highlight what is essential to lay the groundwork for your topic: education, research.

    Comment by Lisa | November 26, 2008

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