• We're a fun, friendly, and diverse group of planners, placemakers, students, and other folks who found their people here. Create your FREE Cyburbia ID, and join us today! Use your email address, or register through your Reddit, Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Microsoft account.

Medium Sized College Towns

chazbet

Member
Messages
9
Points
0
Picture whatever comes to mind or to your personal experience: Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Chapel Hill, Madison, Austin, any others you care to contribute.

Arguably, the presence of a large university enhances the quality of cultural life for a town of any given size. Can towns without a such a center of cultural gravity ever compete on quality of life issues?
 

The Irish One

Member
Messages
2,267
Points
24
I've been thinking about this for a while. I have the pleasure of living in a city where a University is being built. All around the university is suburban housing and a couple of strip malls. The college was termed a university for stay at home moms going back to school. I would like for an area with close streets and pedestrian friendly walking and shops like Berkeley.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
I would argue that universities allow the diversity (the d word) and color of a big city to exist in a much safer, more controlled small-city environment. Davis, California is the nearest example to where I live. It has far more artsy stuff than a Central Valley town of 50,000 should have-because of the money and overeducated :) population brought in by the University.

Without a university, I fear that you have to have a quite large city-or at least a major regional center-to have this quality of life.
 

Repo Man

Cyburbian
Messages
2,550
Points
24
I didn't go there, but the University of Wisconsin-Madison is the image that I get when I think of a Mid-Sized College Town. I think that the University has really help shape the culture and politics of the City. It is not huge, but it has all of the cultural offerings of a larger City due to not only the large student population, but the large number of graduates that have stayed in the area because of the great amentities that madison has to offer.
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
Arguably, the presence of a large university enhances the quality of cultural life for a town of any given size. Can towns without a such a center of cultural gravity ever compete on quality of life issues?

Great question. In grad school we often speculated how the medium size city where we lived in at the time would be different without the U.

Although it is seen to me that most any “medium” sized city has some sort of college or university, but it is clear what you are asking. When looking at comparable towns with and without universities it is almost certain the U towns will have heightened culture, as you said. Education = Culture (generally & hopefully).

What else could fit that roll of the U to bring culture?? I would guess towns with:

· Environmental tourist attractions (e.g. skiing, beach, lakes, rivers or other natural areas)
· Artists, writers and the like communities/colonies
· Economically healthy downtowns (with residential apts. or lofts, mix of restaurants, pubs, and stores where you can buy groceries or other daily items, as opposed to only expensive galleries and the such.)
· Historic areas. Like in Savannah, Ga (I know SCAD is there, but I will argue that Savannah would be a center of culture with out it, although it of course adds).
· Also, I have observed that if there is a certain park or square that often holds cultural events; restaurants, pubs, shops, and people will start to migrate around this area.

This is off the top of my head, and I would like to hear if anyone disagrees or has others to add.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33
Huston, I would definitely agree with you. Colleges are one of the surest indicators of the perception of a community offering more 'culture.' But there are other possibilities, and I think you hit the major one with environmental/recreational assets. Consider ski resorts like Vail or Aspen. Then there is always Branson, Missouri. Maybe there is also an historical element. Neither New Orleans nor Santa Fe have any good universities, yet they are considered cultural centers, mainly because of their historical/cultural background.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
New Orleans

Wouldn't you consider Tulane a good university?
 

chazbet

Member
Messages
9
Points
0
Huston, you raise a point I hadn't thought about.

Thinking about towns with a university, but not much of a cultural life; what's kept them from developing the reputation and quality of life that the classic university town has?

Case in point: Although I live in Lawrence, Kansas and think it meets the good town criterion, I work in Topeka and am glad I get to leave here every night. There is a fair sized university in Topeka (Washburn) but it doesn't have a national reputation and attracts a lot of commuter students.

But a nationally rated university isn't a sufficient condition for quality of urban life? Consider Durham NC (Duke), New Haven, CT (Yale).

So what are the necessary conditions?
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33
Re: New Orleans

BKM said:
Wouldn't you consider Tulane a good university?
I knew I'd get flak over including New Orleans. Yes, Tulane is a good university, but it does not have much of an influence on the cultural scene of the city.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,115
Points
26
The University of Michigan has about 50,000 total students. Ann Arbor has a population of of 114,000. The university began in 1817 in Detroit. Farmers in Washtenaw County lured the university to Ann Arbor with 40 acres of free land. Imagine Detroit today if the university had stayed.
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,551
Points
23
chazbet said:
But a nationally rated university isn't a sufficient condition for quality of urban life? Consider Durham NC (Duke), New Haven, CT (Yale).

So what are the necessary conditions?
I think the cultural impact in Durham (Duke), New Haven (Yale) and New Orleans (Tulane), among others, is limited because they're relatively small schools.

Of these three, I've been only to New Haven. Being a Big Ten school grad, I was perplexed as to why Yale's impact has been so limited in New Haven. Then I realized that, except for Northwestern, every Big Ten school has an enrollment of at least 25,000-30,000 students, a huge faculty and staff, and tons of alumni who visit regularly. I think you have to have a critical mass of people to have that "college town" feel.

In Bloomington, IN (Indiana University), for example, I'd guess that 40-50% of all households there have some connection with the university, and I'd bet that in most college towns the percentage is similar. Can that be said of Durham, New Haven or New Orleans?
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
Beaner Said: The University of Michigan has about 50,000 total students. Ann Arbor has a population of of 114,000. The university began in 1817 in Detroit. Farmers in Washtenaw County lured the university to Ann Arbor with 40 acres of free land. Imagine Detroit today if the university had stayed


Then it would no longer be a college town and dilute throughout the city like U of Miami here in Miami. Students are spread out all over town and there is minimal “college life” when compared to the archrival UF up the road in Gainesville where the U rules the city/area and “college life” is high.

Side note: I attended neither so this is a non-biased opinion, just an observation of a person familiar with both cities.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,115
Points
26
pete-rock said:
I think the cultural impact in Durham (Duke), New Haven (Yale) and New Orleans (Tulane), among others, is limited because they're relatively small schools.
I don't think it has anything to do with the size of the school. I lived in New Haven and worked at Yale for a about a year. I think it has to do with the urban renewal policies of the 1950s and 1960s and the economic decline experienced by so many industrial towns like New Haven in the 1980s. As a result, New Haven is extremely segregated. Students stick to their part of campus, middle-class and affluent residents stick to their neighborhoods, and the lower-income residents have their subsidized homes and shabby neighborhoods. How many white residents drive up to Hamden to do their shopping? Quite a few. How many white residents take the bus to the New Haven Green area? Not too many.

I-90 cuts right through New Haven. The highway is so dis-orienting, if you are a pedestrian, or like to drive the local roads.

Of course, this was six years ago. Things could be different now, or my memory is way screwed-up.

I enjoyed my time in New Haven. I had fun. I want to go back and see if, and how, things might have changed.
 

oulevin

Cyburbian
Messages
178
Points
7
College Towns

I think the point has been well-made that universities don't have a guaranteed impact on their host communities. I may be generalizing, but IMHO the difference is not in national versus only-local prestige but in public vs. private. Major public institutions have more of a public service role: they choose, or are obligated, to engage in the economic development of their regions. Private institutions can carve out their own place in town, and how they engage with it is up to them.

Cleveland offers a good example. Cleveland State, located in downtown, has made a concerted effort to improve downtown and the rest of Cleveland: among other contributions, its convocation center is a major concert and sports venue downtown, and its urban affairs college hosts neighborhood meetings and a neighborhood leadership program. Case Western Reserve U is top-notch private institution, and its place has been relatively insular, located in a leafy enclave called University Circle. Still, city and campus leaders are continually trying to strengthen its contribution and ties to the local economy.

I think small and middle-sized towns can develop a cultural reputation without a unversity, but it would require resort-like lush surroundings and proximity to a major city to garner the kind of residents to cultivate that culture.
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,551
Points
23
Beaner said:


I don't think it has anything to do with the size of the school. I lived in New Haven and worked at Yale for a about a year. I think it has to do with the urban renewal policies of the 1950s and 1960s and the economic decline experienced by so many industrial towns like New Haven in the 1980s. As a result, New Haven is extremely segregated. Students stick to their part of campus, middle-class and affluent residents stick to their neighborhoods, and the lower-income residents have their subsidized homes and shabby neighborhoods. How many white residents drive up to Hamden to do their shopping? Quite a few. How many white residents take the bus to the New Haven Green area? Not too many.

I-90 cuts right through New Haven. The highway is so dis-orienting, if you are a pedestrian, or like to drive the local roads.

Of course, this was six years ago. Things could be different now, or my memory is way screwed-up.

I enjoyed my time in New Haven. I had fun. I want to go back and see if, and how, things might have changed.
I partially agree, Beaner. I visited Yale for a community/university partnership conference about six years ago, the time you were there. The conference's host professors pointed out New Haven's problems and challenges to revitalization. No question that urban renewal was about as disastrous in New Haven as anywhere in the US.

But would New Haven have had an industrial decline to deal with in the '50s and '60s if Yale were much larger? My guess is that Ann Arbor and New Haven were similar in size in the '50s, but U-M's cultural and economic influence in the town was much larger than Yale's in New Haven. As a result Ann Arbor didn't have the industrial economic base and subsequent decline to deal with that New Haven did -- or, for that matter, most every town in southern lower Michigan (Detroit, Flint, Lansing, Saginaw, etc.).
 

bestnightmare

Cyburbian
Messages
61
Points
4
(for the record, total enrollment at u-michigan is 37,000)

and a large university on its own does not a vibrant college town make. compare ann arbor with kalamazoo, similar sized cities, with similar numbers of students (western michigan u and kalamazoo college). ann arbor's in much better economic, cultural, and physical shape. michigan provides the advantage of being both huge and prestigious.
 
Top