Building a TRUE College Town through a Complementary "Town/Gown" Relationship


At the beginning of the 21st century, many colleges and universities around the country have realized that they need to have more than a well-planned campus and top-ranked academic programs to attract students and faculty. Rather, they need to have a complementary “town/gown” relationship with their host community. The “college town” — a quintessentially American ideal city form can provide a very high quality of life, both for students of college-age and for faculty, alumni, and retirees who choose to live in these towns. But what if the existing town falls short?  Any relationship takes efforts from all parties involved to make it happen. Apparently, the underlying physical fabric of the town where a college or university resides ought to consist of a set of physical components suitable in supporting “place-making,” which in turn transforms both the town itself and the campus it hosts together into a livable place for all. So what are those components necessary to build a long-lasting town/gown relationship that is beneficiary to both sides?


Building a 'College Town'

College Town brings together the University and the community

Community Building In College Towns


Birds-eye views showing the walkable connection between “gown and town”


Claremont California - Claremont Colleges

Birds-eye view of the college town of Claremont, California. Home to five colleges including Pomona, Pitzer, Claremont-McKenna, Harvey Mudd, and Scripps. The Claremont colleges are interwoven into the town grid.  Shown here are campus quadrangles set into the town pattern extending through the downtown with the main street terminating on the transit station — a 5-10 minute walk.   Commuting to downtown Los Angeles is 20 minutes.  Urbanisticlally this is a very informative image.



Charleston, South Carolina - College of Charleston is an unusual example wherein the college of 10,000 students fill out the downtown that is more touristy than College-y.  They rent the upstairs apartments above the commercial areas and help work in and take advantage of the Food & Beverage industry.  As Jane Jacobs might say, new things can only thrive in old places.  A comparison University is Princeton wherein the name of the town/University  is emblazoned everywhere possible.  Its campus was built up over time and has architectural gems from different eras near each other.  The role of time is that of a rich milieu.  How do we do that today?  Kieran/Timberlake architects in Philly abandoned their modernist approach when given the opportunity to extend the more recently planned and built campus of Collegiate Gothic Duke University (Steve Kieran edited an issue of the Penn Journal VIA on classical and traditional ornament, including an article by Henry Hope Reed).

Ralph C. Muldrow, RA

Image 2



Athens Georgia - University of Georgia

The 2015-2016 Flagpole Guide To Athens

Welcome to Athens, a small town with a big university and many of the amenities of a big city. We have music, arts, food, movies, theater, unique shops ...



Granville Ohio - Denison College 

Great little town.  No New England perfected in Ohio. It was a colony of Granville Mass. Great federal and Greek revival a Manard Lafever house and Asher Benjamin Church. 10 square grid shelved against college hill. One commercial row only one side. These Ohio towns almost all founded schools. I think there are 80 some little colleges in Ohio still.  My kid goes to Kenyon the first collegiate Gothic campus in America founded with money from two English Lords and a library and charter from Oxford.

Richard Sammons


Bloomsburg Pennsylvania - Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

Ohio college towns include Athens; or Oberlin; or Hudson; or Wooster; or Lexington, KY (Transylvania University); or Bloomsburg, PA (which I loved as a kid because the university terminates Main Street); or Ann Arbor. 

Bruce Donnelly


Bloomington Indiana - University of Indiana

Views from the Sample Gates to the Indiana University campus and down Kirkwood Ave. 

Josh Arcurio

Thomas E. Low 


Civic By Design

704 996-0349

Follow Civic By Design on Twitter and Facebook