Sunday, May 06, 2007

What we learned in college (and how to use it in the real world)

What makes folks loyal to their alma maters? Great football teams? Excellent academic programs? Availability of high quality fake IDs?

What about the absence of cars?

A friend sent me a link to a blog post (thanks, Andrea!) called "Great streets, campuses, and pedestrian nostalgia." Andrea described it as "great" and "funny." I agree 100 percent and encourage everyone to read it in it's entirety.

Here's a snip:
...something I think about more and more lately is the possibility that Americans get as nostalgic as they do about college – identifying themselves as graduates of certain universities to a degree, and with a passion, that I genuinely think is alien to most cultures – whatever that means – not simply because college represents the only four years in which they might have pursued their real interests, but because, in the United States, college is a totally different lifestyle. You walk everywhere.
But what happens when these students leave campus?
So you graduate with your law degree and you move to Ft. Worth and you hang Michigan banners all over your office walls – but that nostalgic loyalty is not simply because you miss playing beer pong, it's because you miss being able to walk around everywhere. It's a particularly intense form of pedestrian nostalgia. In any case, college is like discovering a different world, tucked away inside the United States – and it's a world that's been built for human beings.
Jim Kunstler makes a related point in one of his books (I forget which one) about a similar effect associated with Walt Disney World's Main Street USA. I found the following quote here.
There's a whole other class of Americans who will drive 2500 miles from their small town in Minnesota to go to Walt Disney’s Main Street and walk down Main Street there, you know, unmolested by cars, because they really don’t let them in except for the few antique props that they keep around. And they’ll walk around and they’ll say "Gosh, doesn’t it feel good to be on a nice walkable street in a mixed use, in a simulated mixed-use neighborhood." And then they’ll go back home to their small town and they’ll turn main street into a six-lane expressway, and they’ll cut down all the street trees on Elm Street in order to remove these "hazards to motoring," as they’re regarded by Departments of Transportation, and they’ll do everything possible they can to destroy the great relationships between the things in their older town. And then, another year will go by, and they’ll go back to Disney World to feel good about America. So it’s a pretty kind of pitiful situation.
If college and Disney are so successful in imprinting such fond feelings of independence from cars, what can be done to motivate people to act on them after graduation — to demand walkable and bikeable streets where they don't exist in the "real world" and fight to protect these environments where they do? Perhaps these sleeper agents are simply waiting to be activated. Maybe they need to hear a Robert Frost poem or something and they'll automatically embark on their suicide missions start going to metropolitan planning organization meetings.


Tuco said...

I work at a university in Oshawa, Ontario, and am one of the (very very!) few people who rides a bike to work. although the students do walk back and forth on the very small campus, in order to GET here I'd say that 60-75% of them drive or get dropped off.
Oshawa is basically a full-on "car town" which has never heard of alternative transportation. Sometimes it really strikes me as completely criminal that a college/university not have ANY bike lanes connecting to it.

Jett said...

That is sad there are so few bikes. I'm fortunate to live between Georgia Tech and Emory in Atlanta and both campuses have many bike commuters. (It's mostly math professors I seem to strike up conversations with.) The article this post refers to could have been written about Tech or Emory (although UNC is a much nicer campus than either).

Do you find that weather is a factor? We've had some really nice riding the past several months.