Before you can determine whether a town is a great college town you need to ask yourself, what actually is a college town? Once you have the definition you can then make the decision whether it is a great college town or not.
In my opinion a true college town would be a place where the identity of the place is shaped by and is complementary to its university. It has the ability to create an environment that is conducive and enjoyable by all residents whether they are taking classes and or attending the university or not. Essentially a great college town is where the young, enquiring minds can meet the old traditions, and all manner of social, political and cultural ideas are welcomed.
Whilst this is a pretty broad analysis, it should be remembered that a college town in more than just a major employer, it is the reason why there are more shops, restaurants and entertainment available in the area. However, the area has to look like a college town too, it would be wrong to label an area as a college town if you are unable to tell when classes are in session from a glance of the variety of people on the busy sidewalks.
Setting aside the idea that a college town has to have a multitude of twenty year olds wandering around with bulging book bags, or alternatively stumbling out of the bars and causing chaos, we have to look at how many cities meet the other criteria in particular the cities that appear to be shaped by the influence of colleges.
Ask yourself, really, what would the area of Baltimore be without the inclusion of the Johns Hopkins University? It really would be the equivalent of a great big hole in the ground. How about Rochester, the answer would be pretty much the same.
Livability have recently published a list of the best college towns and all of those featured in the top ten are smaller and somewhat remote areas. The research by Livability also took into consideration the cost of living and the ease of getting around on foot, after all college towns should be some of the most pedestrian friendly communities due to the nature of what is at the heart of the area, the college.
On the best list are Bloomington and Ann Arbor and the first thing that springs to mind is how? These are possibly two of the not so great college towns, and this seems to resonate that some places are great to live but you wouldn’t want to actually visit them!
If we were to take away some of the prejudices that have been imposed by the research taken out by Livability, which towns would actually hold up best? Personally I have been to the University of Minnesota and also places like Cedar-Riverside, Nordeast and Dinkytown and it was these neighborhoods that formed my idea of a true college town, however these are the type of colleges that would never make a best list. There are a number of places that I feel are overlooked and I have often found many of the colleges that I have visited to be an awful lot nicer than I had heard and led to believe that they would be.
There are a number of conventional college places that will always make best lists such as Boulder, Burlington, Ithaca and Madison however, when we look at these demographically it does actually makes me ask the question whether there is a link to be made between a great college town and breweries?