This paper focuses on the spatial development problem of university-led innovation in peripheral urban areas. Highlighting issues of proximity, uneven geographic development, and multi-scalar urban governance as weaknesses of the regional innovation systems literature, we provide a novel synthesis of regional economics, innovation policy, and critical urban studies to assess the development roles of universities in concrete contexts. A comparative investigation of Naples and Newark, NJ captures the functional operation of regional innovation and urban development as a contested product of discourses, technologies (material and governance), and territorial arrangements. Our analysis demonstrates the significance of multi-scalar relationships in structuring innovation policy and practice in peripheral urban areas. The architecture of innovation is not simply rolled out into pre-determined spatial containers in places lacking established ‘institutional thickness’ or urban centrality. The spatial development of university-led innovation is a social product: material and governance infrastructures are essential components of the urban fabric and are essential to its co-constitution. Universities are shown to contribute differing resources dependent on their institutional strategic goals and the capacities and spatial imaginaries afforded to them by their situation in broader territorial governance regimes. We conclude by drawing comparative lessons and identifying directions for future research.
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