Sunday, August 20, 2006

A brief study of college towns

In the past few years I've been to several college towns, and something that always fascinates me is the relationship between the institution and its hometown. So far, I've been able to pretty accurately divide the "college towns" into a few distinct types:
Town? What town? - I visited the University of Wisconsin at Platteville for a few days a year and a half ago. I don't think I ever saw Platteville. The college was surrounded by fields, and the only thing that didn't appear to be part of campus was the cemetery around which the campus had grown. Which, incidentally, was creepy. Unless I just missed it, there was very little "town" in the college town of Platteville, WI. So, the first type of college town is where the college pretty much is the town.
You'd be nothing without me! - In contrast, I've also paid a few visits down to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I get the feeling walking around down there that there simply would not be an Urbana-Champaign if there weren't a UIUC. Everything revolves around the college and campus, and if that were removed, nothing resembling the current town would still exist. So, the second type is where there is a town because of the college.
We're both complete individuals, we just complete each other. - Of the colleges I've never attended, I've spent more time at Northern Illinois University and in its hometown, Dekalb, Illinois, than any other. While there are a number of college-related and college-intended shops and stores and whatnot, it's clear that without NIU, there would still be a Dekalb. That Dekalb would certainly be smaller and more centered around its farming and manufacturing aspects, but it would exist nonetheless. After all, no town of the second type could claim both an annual corn festival and a hookah bar among its assets.
We have a college now? - And the college I've been at most is my own alma mater, Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. I spent a large portion of my childhood in the Quad Cities, and I can say honestly that for most of my life, I was completely unaware that there was a college in Rock Island. Aside from a few restaurants and shops in the blocks directly surrounding the campus, you would never know that Rock Island was a college town. Augie is more or less quarantined, contained on its hill without much interaction with the rest of the town.

And then there's Macomb and Western Illinois University, which have a really, really odd relationship. It's like the two are separate entities connected by an umbilical cord of college-related small businesses. It's a sort of Don't stand so close to me symbiosis.

I dunno, I think it's interesting.

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