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The American College Town

The American College Town

Blake Gumprecht
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    The American College Town
    Book Description:

    The college town is a unique type of urban place, shaped by the sometimes conflicting forces of youth, intellect, and idealism. The hundreds of college towns in the United States are, in essence, an academic archipelago. Similar to one another, they differ in fundamental ways from other cities and the regions in which they are located. In this highly readable book—the first work published on the subject—Blake Gumprecht identifies the distinguishing features of college towns, explains why they have developed as they have in the United States, and examines in depth various characteristics that make them unusual. In eight thematic chapters, he explores some of the most interesting aspects of college towns—their distinctive residential and commercial districts, their unconventional political cultures, their status as bohemian islands, their emergence as hightech centers, and more. Each of these chapters focuses on a single college town as an example, while providing additional evidence from other towns. Lively, richly detailed, and profusely illustrated with original maps and photographs, as well as historical images, this is an important book that firmly establishes the college town as an integral component of the American experience.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-100-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Population Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxii)
    (pp. 1-39)

    The American college town is a unique type of urban place, shaped by the sometimes conflicting forces of youth, intellect, and idealism, that has been an important but overlooked element of American life. The hundreds of college towns in the United States are, in essence, an academic archipelago.¹ Similar to one another, they differ in fundamental ways from other cities and the regions in which they are located. They are alike in their youthful and comparatively diverse populations, their highly educated work forces, their relative absence of heavy industry, and the presence in them of cultural amenities more characteristic of...

    (pp. 40-70)

    One of the most distinctive attributes of the American college town is the college campus, an island of green punctuated by monumental buildings, site of a diverse range of educational and social activities. In many ways, the campus is the focus of life in the college town, much as the central business district was in the pre­automobile city or the shopping mall is in suburbia. Campuses often function like self­contained cities, with residential areas, restaurants and bookstores, recreational facilities, concert halls, sports stadiums, park­like green spaces, and busy calendars of events. They are a hub of activities that serve not...

    (pp. 71-107)

    One college town. Three neighborhoods. Three very different images. South of the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York, dilapidated old frame houses split into student apartments hug the street. Couches sit on porches, which are permanently affixed with “Now Renting” signs. Empty beer bottles line railings. A few newer high-rise apartments, equipped with game rooms, high­speed Internet access, and other amenities desired by today’s college students, tower above sidewalks crowded with young people day and night. West of campus, the landscape is more spacious and the buildings more pretentious. Gothic, Tudor, and Italianate mansions occupy large lots. Greek letters...

    (pp. 108-144)

    Walk through downtown Burlington, Vermont, around the square in Oxford, Mississippi, or along Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, and you begin to notice an idiosyncratic similarity to these places that reflects the distinctive demographics of college towns. College town business districts, like residential areas in college communities, strongly reflect the presence of unusual concentrations of students and highly educated adults. Whether in Georgia or Oregon, whether in a college town that is home to a big state university or a small liberal arts college, you will find a similar mix of stores, the same sorts of restaurants, a familiar street...

    (pp. 145-188)

    The lands along America’s interstate highways are normally the most placeless of spaces, anonymous corridors that look the same from Florida to Washington state. Chain restaurants. Motels. Truck stops. Driving along Interstate 80 in California’s Central Valley en route to the college town of Davis, however, I encountered a series of billboards unlike anything I had seen previously in my interstate travels. There were four billboards placed at equal distances like the old Burma Shave signs. The first showed a toad climbing over the billboard and asked: “Why did the toad cross the road?” Subsequent signs answered the question: “To...

    (pp. 189-226)

    College towns, like the schools located in them, are transient places. Young people come to them to pursue an education and leave once they earn their degrees. For most of the history of American higher education, this model held true for nearly all young people who attended college at residential universities. They went away to college naïve and irresponsible, and graduated four years later more mature and self-confident. They moved to cities and suburbs, began careers, got married, and started families. If they ever returned to the college town of their youth, it was to attend football games or alumni...

    (pp. 227-255)

    One of the most conspicuous differences between higher education in the United States and that in other countries is the greater importance of intercollegiate athletics at U.S. colleges and universities. Stadiums and arenas dominate campuses. Athletic departments have annual budgets that dwarf those of academic units. Games draw spectators from great distances and are televised coast to coast. Coaches are paid higher salaries than university presidents, student athletes are national celebrities, and the marketing of college sports paraphernalia is a billion dollar business. Sporting events are also a central component of student life at American colleges and universities and sometimes...

    (pp. 256-295)

    To the outsider, Ann Arbor, Michigan (fig. 8.1), appears to be two different cities. On and around the University of Michigan campus, it seems like any other college town. “The Diag” is the focal point of campus, where activists distribute leaflets and students gather between classes. Shaded walks lead to buildings that are quintessentially collegiate. Across from campus, bookstores, coffee houses, and other businesses typical of college-oriented shopping districts line State Street, which bustles with activity late into the night. Surrounding the campus and downtown are endless blocks of rumpled old rental houses characteristic of student ghettos all over. Nearby...

  12. 9 TOWN VS. GOWN
    (pp. 296-334)

    When David Athey bought his Colonial Revival house in the Kells Avenue neighborhood of Newark, Delaware, the seller told him that the best attribute about the house was the same as the worst—its proximity to the University of Delaware.¹ The house is one block from campus, so when Athey decided to pursue a graduate degree at night, he was able to walk to class. A major research library is five minutes from his door. He can attend plays and concerts in two campus performing arts venues. Foreign films shown nowhere else in the state are screened in the Trabant...

    (pp. 335-348)

    What does the future hold for college towns? Some say that the growth of online education will mean the extinction of the bricks­and-mortar university, which would mean the end of the college town as I’ve described it. Others believe that college towns are representative of a new kind of geography that is the result of a changing U.S. economy and may become magnets for growth in an information age. College towns have also been discovered as nice places to live by people with no formal connection to a university—from young professionals disenchanted with suburban living to senior citizens seeking...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 349-412)
    (pp. 413-416)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 417-438)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 439-440)