University: the peak of friend clustering
Your student days were good because your friends were in walking distance
There was a viral tweet recently saying something like ‘Americans only obsess over college so much because it’s the only time they get to live in a walkable neighbourhood’. I think there’s something to this.
But living in walkable neighbourhoods alone does not do the job. Most Americans do not choose to live in walkable neighbourhoods, developers do not maximise profits by building walkable neighbourhoods, and walkable neighbourhoods don’t usually have the highest location-adjusted prices. (Though see many admirable projects trying to change this on Coby Lefkowitz’s Twitter feed.)
Americans rarely live on walkable streets. There are some very high rent neighbourhoods that are walkable – Manhattan, Georgetown, and so on. There are bungalow courts and assisted living areas for older people. These two neighbourhood types involve clustering, based around affordability or other restrictions, and are often desirable.
Then there are trailer communities, and there are some neighbourhoods of public housing that are in some sense walkable, although the walks tend to be across bleak windswept open spaces or within poorly kept up towers and blocks. These two neighbourhood types tend not to be people’s first choice, and are generally seen as less desirable.
As will be clear if you read my first post, or the title of this very Substack, I think the reason people loved their college days so much, apart from the fact they were young and beautiful, with perfectly functioning brains and livers, is that at university one has all one’s best friends within two minutes walk. And they’re almost always free to hang out.
Compared to the small town example I looked at before, people at a given university are probably more like potential friends. Most importantly, the students all chose to be there – unlike prisoners, who also live in walkable neighbourhoods. And they chose to be there in part because of an organising feature of the university, probably making the intake similar to each other in some way, possibly fitting some cultural type.
In short: it’s also about clustering. So that once again leaves me wondering whether we could all enjoy the rest of our lives as much as we enjoy university if we lived closer to our friends. And I wonder whether there is some sort of institution we could create to generate such clustering.
This is just a little snippet of an idea that I forgot to include in my original clustering post. In general, I try and keep my Substack pieces fairly rough and ready, with little editing. I don’t mind if they’re not exactly perfect, I think it’s better if they’re just an idea I had, possibly a silly idea.
P.S. If you haven’t checked it out yet, check out the latest issue of Works in Progress, the magazine I edit.