Is MIT a Good Place to Live?
The University Campus as a Residential Environment
1.1 University as Neighborhood
CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION
1.1 University as Neighborhood
Within the context of the urban environment, a university campus plays many roles. Primarily it serves as the setting for an educational institution, a place in which faculty and students undertake teaching and research in various academic fields. It also can be a large center of employment for a wide range of personnel, including faculty members, researchers, administrative staff, service staff and others. Furthermore, a university campus can be a catalyst for economic development, by attracting certain types of businesses that draw on a local talent pool or a concentrated customer base. It can also be an attractive and monumental destination due to its landscape and architecture--- a work of art.
This study addresses another vital, yet sometimes overlooked, role of the campus--- a residential community, usually comprised of students but perhaps containing faculty and staff as well. These individuals share a living environment as well as an educational and work environment. Within the context of the city at large, this community may be viewed as a specialized type of neighborhood.
Universities seem to be continually struggling to determine what role residence should play in their activities. University housing can be an economic resource, a luxury, a social facilitator, an educational program, a requirement from a government agency, or many variations and combinations of these things. Universities also pay close attention to the quality of housing they provide. The reasons why they may consider residential quality are diverse, and might include attracting top students or achieving educational goals.
Given that the university campus functions as a residential environment, and given that universities are concerned with the quality of the residential experience on campus, it makes sense to ask some questions about the nature of the residential university. Why is it that university campuses have a residential function? How is it that university campuses best carry out their residential function? How does one make an assessment of the level of quality a campus provides in terms of residential life? While these questions have been well studied at the scale of the individual residence or small residential group, this study considers these questions at the scale of the campus at large, to determine how campus development strategies can be focused towards creating a good residential environment overall.
1.2 Is MIT a Good Place to Live?
The subject of this study is the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The study specifically focuses on the quality of the MIT campus environment as it relates to the MIT residential community. There are 5000+ individuals living in MIT residences, mostly students, with a small number of faculty and staff. This study considers whether the campus environment satisfies the needs and wants of these residents, and what particular aspects of the campus environment should be improved to better support the residential community. Simplified, the question that drives this study is, ``Is the MIT campus a good place to live?''
What makes this question particularly interesting is the fact that there is no clear, easy way to go about answering it. Therefore, the intention of this study is not to provide a yes-or-no answer to the question, but to gain an understanding of what it means to have a residential university and how such a university's campus should be expected to perform. Exploring this issue within the context of the MIT, I intend to construct a framework for analyzing and evaluating the campus in terms of how its qualities affect the residential experience of those people who live there. This will provide a mechanism for evaluating the residential environment on an ongoing basis and guiding the campus development program to achieve a higher level of residential quality.
As mentioned in the Preface, I am undertaking this study because it is my impression that the MIT campus, while it provides a generally high quality of housing that residents find satisfactory, has many weaknesses as a residential environment overall. Through this study, I intend to demonstrate these weaknesses, along with strengths, from a residential perspective, explain these using the analytical framework described above, and describe the overall "residential experience" that defines the campus. I will also suggest strategies that might help to improve the residential environment during future phases of MIT's campus development.
There are four general parts to this study. The first part (Chapter 2) is a historical overview of the residential function of the university. This overview looks broadly at the important themes guiding residential campus development in America and Europe, and looks specifically at the historical development of the MIT campus. The second part of the study (Chapter 3) is an inventory that describes some key features of the MIT campus area, paying particular attention to the features that relate most directly to residential life. This part may be uninteresting to readers who are already familiar with the MIT campus. However, even longtime campus residents may discover interesting items they did not know of beforehand.
The third part of the study (Chapter 4) is the most critical. This part presents the information gathered from a series of discussion sessions I held at different residences around the MIT campus in February and March of 2003. In these discussions, residents were encouraged to discuss the issues that they thought were most important in considering the campus from a residential point of view. While conversations varied from residence to residence, there were many common themes, which I then compiled to create a representation of a larger, "campus-wide conversation" about these issues.
The final part of the study (Chapter 5) draws conclusions based on the findings presented in prior chapters. In this chapter I present an analytical framework outlining the most important considerations in determining the effects of campus development on quality of life for residents. I then use this framework to describe and evaluate the MIT residential experience and suggest strategies for improving that experience in the future.
1.1 University as Neighborhood
Copyright MMIII Jeffrey C. Roberts. All rights reserved.