Last weekend I went home to Minneapolis to visit my parents and also meet with a professor in the University of Minnesota’s Urban & Regional Planning department (where I’m exploring potential graduate school options). Stepping onto the University’s campus (which I admittedly, didn’t spend any time on growing up, despite the fact that it’s in my hometown), I was immediately struck by how wonderfully pedestrian friendly it is. This is true for most college campuses, but it’s been a while since I’ve had reason to go to one, and my own alma mater was so tiny that it didn’t feel particularly remarkable that it was walkable. It was basically one big square block. But this, the University of Minnesota, home to 40,000 students, is a mini-metropolis completely accessible on foot. I’ve heard other urbanists talk about what a great model college campuses are for walkability and good city design, and seeing it in person really brought that point home. Here are a few photos and observations to showcase this.
I walked across an entire bridge devoted only to foot traffic. It even had a covered area for when it’s snowy or extremely cold. I moved from building to building on pedestrian-only sidewalks and through courtyards, in addition to skyways that connect many of the buildings too. Due to a combination of cold weather and my visit being during a time when there weren’t too many classes in session, these pictures don’t show very many people, but you can clearly see the wide, plowed sidewalks and the bridge open to pedestrians and bikers, including demarcated lanes for each mode of transportation.
When most of us look back on our college years, there’s a certain fondness felt toward that experience. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a relatively carefree, enjoyable time in our lives. I have to think that some of that is due to walkability. When many people talk about why they loved college, it was their proximity to their friends, their opportunities to play a quick game of football or watch a late night movie or grab snacks in the cafeteria on a whim. It was the fact that they didn’t have to wake up at 5am to endure a 1 hour commute to class but could instead just roll out of bed, gulp down coffee and stroll over to their classroom in a matter of minutes. That walkability contributes to an overall sense of community and closeness.
It’s also important to note that this pedestrian-friendliness almost always means wheelchair-friendliness. In a car-centric environment, someone in a wheelchair often needs to charter a ride service in order to get anywhere, or rely on the public bus. However, in a walk-friendly area, a wheelchair user can seamlessly travel from place to place, via safe, accommodating sidewalks and accessible building entrances. There is less segregation between able-bodied and disabled individuals. I love that this is an aspect of many college campuses. Certainly many old buildings at universities have catching up to do when it comes to accessibility, but the paths in between the buildings are a good start.
This walkability makes me even more excited to be back in school. And even if academia is not in your plans for the future, you can take advantage of the walking paths and public squares at any university near your home. Our cities could stand to take a page out of their books.