Cities of knowledge: Cold War politics, universities, and the roots of the information -age metropolis, 1945–1970

Margaret Pugh O'Mara, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation explores the effect of the Cold War upon urban space in the U.S. during the quarter century after the end of World War II, and examines the way in which federal expenditures on higher education and scientific research during the early Cold War encouraged the suburbanization of advanced scientific industry. Through analysis of the federal policy decision-making process and through case studies of three university-centered communities—Stanford University and the San Francisco Peninsula, the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, and the Georgia Institute of Technology and Atlanta—this project documents how Cold War militarization and the resultant economic and political prominence of the research university helped skew the geography of high-tech production in the U.S. away from central cities and towards the suburbs. I argue that the political and cultural priorities of the early Cold War generated a new and very specific kind of urban prototype, the “city of knowledge.” These cities were places with a very specific and exclusive physical and socioeconomic geography—intensively landscaped and comprehensively planned spaces centered upon research institutions, filled with high-technology businesses, and populated by professional scientists and their families. The city of knowledge was much easier to execute successfully in lightly populated, homogeneous suburban areas than crowded, increasingly diverse central cities. This resulted in part from the inherently pro-suburban biases of the federal Cold War science complex. Because of the important role of research universities as anchors of these new communities of scientific production, cities of knowledge were often designed to look like extensions of a college campus, incorporating large green spaces and low-rise architecture. The adherence to these design parameters, combined with the desires of white-collar scientific professionals for community amenities like parks and good schools, gave further encouragement to the suburbanization of science. The evidence presented in this dissertation demonstrates that the overwhelmingly suburban geography of the late-twentieth century information economy was not simply the product of market forces, but something shaped by state intervention.

Subject Area

American history|Urban planning|Area planning & development|Science history

Recommended Citation

O'Mara, Margaret Pugh, "Cities of knowledge: Cold War politics, universities, and the roots of the information -age metropolis, 1945–1970" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3043926.