During my time on campus, placemaking became more than a fantasy. It was ingrained. Let’s be honest here; if we think about how much we walked, shared things, and did all of our major business within a small set of buildings and blocks, we should all have at least some good nostalgia. In fact, I’ll go ahead and share the major lessons I learned about place being on campus:
-I lived in a building with 50 other people and didn’t pull my hair out: If anybody has any complaint about communal living, it’s that the bathroom stinks, their roommate stinks, and the place just flat out stinks. Well, in my dorms, we didn’t have as much of a stench due to housekeeping staff who took pride in their work and RA’s who put wet wipes, air fresheners and other light cleaning supplies in the dorms to fill in the gaps. We also had a maintenence staff that made sure our windows, air conditioners, steps and the like were in good working order at all times. There were individual roommate problems, but some of the troublemakers either got kicked off of campus or had somewhere else to go. I loved being able to go downstairs and have something going on at all times. Even if it was random or not quite my thing, it was still something to do that saved money on entertainment.
-I ate at the dining hall, and we had a world-class chef: Well, for the first two years of undergrad at least. The lesson here is that you can run a cheap restaurant. Hire a chef who appreciates the challenge of cooking for diverse college students and sees the place as a nice sit-down restaurant, not a mess hall for students who will eat everything under the sun. However, the challenge we did run into was keeping the good chef (he was promoted) and finding people who could cook all kinds of things. In grad school, I added tasty takeout joints to the mix. Yet, my one visit to the general dining hall was my last visit to the general dining hall, as it clearly began to resemble a mess and not the best.
-We shut down for 3.5 months and we still got stuff done: People complain or sympahize with the college student break, but in light of the recent economic troubles of many companies, besides paying their employees, they have no reason to really operate over the Christmas and in some cases any national holiday. Having so many days off rejuvenated me and helped me to come back ready to work twice as hard. Also, this helps with building energy costs and motivating even the lowest paid employees. (Think of our chef or housekeepers).
-I walked everywhere(undergrad): Granted walking from the grocery store was a bit cumbersome.(Reusable bags had not hit the mainstream yet), but I appreciated the fresh air. Also, there were businesses that were close by and students patronized them, especially if they had something students really wanted (not just alcohol). When I didn’t walk, I rode the on campus bus, the Wolfline, which had connections to two grocery stores, a drug store and all the main points of campus I couldn’t easily walk to. The bus even ran a special route to the athletic complex for basketball and football games.
-I barely drove (grad school): Having a car and commuting from my mom’s house made me a bit lazy. I complained dearly and daily about parking at the park-and-ride. I scarfed down fast food just so I could run and grab my precious Betsy and park her right outside the door of our building, which was free after five. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, even when I received a better parking permit the following year (all day, every day parking on main campus), all it did was make me rethink my car trips. Could I just be more focused and do my homework at home, then make the trip to campus for classes and serious library time only? Is it worth me swinging around the block for the perfect spot, when I could just park in “the sticks” and get some much needed exercise? I used to love walking in the rain? What happened? I appreciate even more the times in undergrad when I had no choice but to walk, for the sheer fact that my waistline (and my bank acount) loved me better.
These lessons are not news to the many college-educated young professionals who chose to make dense, traditionally-urban style areas their home. These lessons are also not lost on some who were forced into urban-style development as children, left for the suburbs, but come back for work, or to play on the evenings and weekends. Service workers, namely spa and salon owners, make their business in dense areas and know about the hip cachet. Those without homes know that the best place to be when all you have are the clothes on your back and your two feet is where all the public services are, which tend to still concentrate in the central business district.
At the end of the day, a sense of place is the greatest lesson of all, no matter what level of schooling you have.