That’s the focus of a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Geoffrey Vaughn argues that during the urban crisis of the 1960s and 1970s, city leaders lost their way–they forgot what made cities significant components of human culture:
From early Mesopotamia to Boston, cities have worked because they concentrate people in a small area, unleashing a remarkable intellectual potential that is otherwise inaccessible when dispersed over a large landmass. Yet there is more to the success of cities than an economy of scale. According to [Harvard economist Edward] Glaeser, “Cities enable collaboration, especially the joint production of knowledge that is mankind’s most important creation.” Yet too many have been distracted from that goal. As a result, eager efforts to reform cities left swaths of destruction behind them. . . .
. . . .If colleges and universities are going to survive the 21st century, however, they must not make the mistakes that cities made in the 20th [i.e., turning their back on their role as concentrations of creative activity].
Colleges are at their best when they focus and intensify the intellectual drama that they uniquely provide. We should feel sorry for the person who has never had an experience in which, for at least a moment, the whole world seemed to make sense around one intellectual achievement. For most of us, this probably happened first, or most often, in college. But it is unlikely to happen at all when that intellectual drama is given a small and shrinking stage.
Vaughn makes the case that, during this time of upheaval, it is important for colleges to remember that role and emphasize it, resisting the trend to recast campuses as centers of recreational and social activity. His full argument is here.