Colleges need towns

The New York Times reports [why do they require a login?] that towns around colleges are just as important as the colleges themselves in attracting faculty and students:

Colleges have traditionally tempted top students with ivy-covered campuses, towering Gothic buildings and up-to-date student centers. But nowadays, there is a sense that a beautiful campus is not enough. An alluring college town is seen as necessary as well.

Our small town has a university but the town itself has had some difficulties over the past few years, with business and store closures. This past weekend, a 150 year-old building, on the main downtown corner, burnt and was completely destroyed. No one was injured.
sackville fire.jpg

[Note: Project Rebuild is focused on helping out those who were left homeless by the fire.]

Perhaps this is also an opportunity for us to rethink the important connection between the university, the town and what attracts and retains people. What could be built on this key intersection that would enhance a sense of community? Should it be retail; residential; a town square?

Via Christian Long, at Think: Lab

5 Responses to “Colleges need towns”

  1. Harold

    I said what “could” be built here. If only the owner of the property had a say in what should be built, then we wouldn’t have by-laws and zoning regulations. The market has a place in our community but not all questions of community development should be left to the market (IMHO). A few strategic decisions by the community or its elected representatives may have long-term ramifications for our town.

    An example of the community’s representatives making non-market land use decisions would be the expropriation of land for a school, as exercised in our own community in recent memory.

  2. Karyn Romeis

    Not a comment specific to your town, but smaller university towns are like two different places: term time buzz or holiday time vacuum. There is a small city near where I grew up in South Africa which is home to a suitably small, but very vibrant university. During the longer holidays, the place can become something of a ghost town. Traditionally, there has been a festival of arts during July (which is deep winter, remember, and very cold), with both mainstream and fringe offerings. This attracts an enormous audience. Some well-heeled folks who go to all the highbrow events. Others who just come along to watch the fringe offerings or the buskers. And many, many crafters who set up stalls around the town. It’s quite a bohemian event, but the audience is not limited to people with those leanings (my parents go, after all!). It generates traffic and income for the city during what would be a very lean time.

  3. Jeremy

    I also read Christian’s post with interest, and was thinking that Canada doesn’t have the same focus on college towns. Looking through the list of Canadian college towns from Wikipedia, it looks like I was right about the lack in Western Canada anyway (calling Nelson a college town would be a real stretch)…but I hadn’t realized that we had equivalents in the east. (duh!)

    A few years ago, I went on a series of business trips and got to visit some of the famous universities in the U.S. — Princeton, Harvard, MIT, and Stanford — and it was really eye-opening for a country boy from the prairies. Harvard in particular kind of blew my mind, both for the history of the place and how closely it’s integrated with the surrounding town.

    Although I was trying to stay positive about my own history as I wandered through those beautiful campuses with amazing architecture and reverent atmosphere, I couldn’t shake the grey images of the suburban-industrial campus of my alma mater, the University of Manitoba. It’s at least in the city, but totally disconnected from it, and sadly it’s mostly a hodge-podge of ugly ’70s concrete buildings. Made me wish that I had been able to envision a wider world at 18, rather than choosing the easiest path.

    In the early ’90s, Kelowna was deciding where to build their new expanded campus (now UBC Okanagan) and ended up planting it out in the boonies north of the city. It’s a very nice facility, but the location means that everyone has to drive there, nobody wants to live on campus and it’s not at all integrated into the community.

  4. Harold

    Thanks Karyn & Jeremy. I think we need to appreciate just how unique we are to have a 160 year-old university right in the middle of town. As Jeremy mentions, there is nothing like it out West. In Canada, there are perhaps half a dozen small towns with a university, mostly in the Atlantic provinces.


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