Opinion — The death of free public spaces in America

Is college the best four years of your life?
TAKING UP SPACE — The difference between college, a sitting area in Jamrich Hall used for example, and life after it.
TAKING UP SPACE — The difference between college, a sitting area in Jamrich Hall used for example, and life after it.
Megan Poe

Have you ever been told that college is the best four years of your life? Your answer, especially as a student right now, is probably no. However, college is a unique environment where while you’re growing and learning independently, you’re also in a close community on campus and never very far away from an activity or someone to talk to. 

While living on a college campus, during the weekend you can get some work done, go to your friend’s place and play pool in the rec room, have a big meal, and go to an event all within about four hours and without having to drive anywhere. Everything is within walking distance, places you can get exercise and be in public, where there’s less pressure to spend money and everyone is there with one similar goal.

Now, picture this: You graduate from college and get a job. On the weekend, you have to decide how you want to spend your time because, between the commute to each place and the money you spend there, you’re pretty limited. You get some work done at home, and then you’d have to drive to your friend’s apartment. To play pool, you’d have to go to some sort of bar or other restaurant, and that big meal while you’re spending time with your friend? That’s going to be about $30. If you still have time between all of the driving, the event you’re going to with your friend, like a movie, will cost an additional $15 at least. Then, you make the drive home. What used to take four hours in college now takes you all day, and you’re too drained to take care of yourself just so that you get out in public and have a social life.

What is the problem here? The United States’ law against “loitering.” Loitering is essentially being somewhere without a legal purpose for being there. What a police officer can consider loitering is arbitrary and subjective. Besides a park, there are few public spaces within a community that costs no money to be at. If you want to catch up with a friend, they might ask you to meet them at the coffee shop. That’s $7 and possibly the cost to park downtown. There is a limited time you can spend there because some shops will get antsy for taking up their seats for too long. The only place most Americans can be guaranteed entry without having to spend money is isolated in their own home.

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Our society is structured around cars and not around the community. Every place you want to go has a distance between another place you’d like to go, and neither is designed for you to spend too much time in those places; they’re designed for you to spend your money. Surrounding shopping malls, there are parking lots for the cars. Surrounding apartment complexes, there are parking lots for the cars. This discourages people from both building relationships with their neighbors and spending any more time out of the house than they need to, because it’s too expensive and too draining to be out long.  

College may not be the best four years of your life, but they are the last four years that it will be at least moderately accessible to spend quality time with like-minded people in your area, and it will be the last four years of your life where you merely exist outside of your home without the fear of breaking the law or feeling pressured to spend money. It will be the last four years of your life where every decision you make about how you spend your time doesn’t come with a sacrifice.

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