For many, college is one’s first foray into adulthood. It’s a four-year period in which long-lasting connections are made. Students are often young, energetic, and in the midst of solidifying their personalities and trying to forge their future career paths. There’s a lot to like about college in general. Those whose parents attended college often rave about their experience as “the best time of their lives” and how you “need to savor every moment before it’s gone,” and it isn’t really bad advice. But it all raises the question of why it’s often viewed as the highlight of people’s lives, regardless of the institution they attended. 

I’m here to tell you that it isn’t really because of the parties, or the people you meet, or the classes you take, but something else – something intertwined with all these aspects, and it’s only two words: walkable cities.

As I was doing my daily scroll through X, formerly Twitter, this past week, I came across a Mar. 22, 2021 post by @NomeDaBarbarian which reads, “I forget who said it, but it’s stuck in my head – Half the reason folks romanticize college is because it’s the last time most folks lived in dense, walkable neighborhoods focused on providing community during plentiful off-hours. Like, that could just be how we build cities.”

It’s rare that a social media post genuinely causes me to stop in my tracks and rethink things, but this was one of those cases. 

It’s no secret that the infrastructure here in the United States is just a tad too car-centric. According to 2019 estimates from the American Commuter Survey Report, the main mode of transportation in the United States was driving – save for New York City, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and some extremely rural areas of Alaska. On the part of the cities, public transit was the main mode of transportation, while Alaskans walked.

The reason that Americans have to drive is simply because we’ve built our towns and cities to require it. It’s a rare occurrence to see robust public transportation systems in places that don’t have an extremely high population density. For smaller areas, public transportation is often a patchwork of city buses, Greyhounds, or Ubers. These are all often unreliable or inaccessible to those in areas on the outskirts of a city, or those without the financial means to support it. 

But college is different from a standard American city. College campuses were built to support thousands of students living in the same area, who, for the most part, don’t have access to a car on campus. This simple fact allows colleges to almost act as miniature cities within the boundaries of a larger city. Colleges are so essential to the city-at-large, that smaller cities with colleges are often referred to as “college towns”. 

There are several dormitory buildings on each campus that act as apartment buildings. At times, students will live with at least one other person, with each floor containing tens or hundreds of people at once. This environment alone is one that’s conducive for socialization and community-building. Outside of dorms, students have every single essential service within clear walking distance. Need something to eat? Dining services are there. Want to go workout? A gym facility is there. Want to go study? A library is there. Need to go to the doctor? Health services are there. Need to make some money? There are job opportunities on-campus. Need friends? There is a large variety of student organizations which are built with the sole purpose of connecting people with similar interests.

While one can debate all day long about the quality of each service provided and what needs to be done to improve these things, the fact is that the blueprint colleges use is a successful one. Unfortunately, it’s a blueprint that is almost universally not replicated in most American cities and towns. 

After graduation, people are forced to conform to a much more individualistic lifestyle, heavily revolving around work, with commutes back and forth that can be lengthy at times. Friends are harder to make without the population density and openness college offers, and groups that are analogous to student organizations are few and far between. The best you’ll get is a company softball game, or going out to the bar on Saturday. 

The lesson here isn’t that driving is inherently evil or that those who enjoy long drives should feel ashamed, but rather that we should begin rethinking how our communities are structured. The implementation of bicycle lanes is certainly a start, but the key issue is the variability of locations to key services. 

It’s a disservice to each community when essential services like hospitals are so far from one’s house or apartment. The financial barriers of first obtaining a license, then getting a car, and then getting insurance for that car is also out of the question for some. Families are forced to juggle a single vehicle between work schedules, school schedules, and other obligations. 

It shouldn’t have to be like this. Americans should be able to take any form of transportation they want to with dignity. Public transit users shouldn’t be looked down on, nor should cyclists or those who simply prefer to walk, or need to out of necessity. It’s about equity. Now more than ever, our towns and cities need to use every tool at their disposal to restore the sense of close-knit community they once had – or else rugged individualism may be the death of us. 

Nathan Hope can be contacted at

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