Clemson is a very small city wrapped in a large university, and that is an odder combination than I thought. We are have 13,905 residents (all city data come from Wikipedia and based on population numbers from the 2010 census), abutting a university with more than 24,000 students (student numbers come from university web sites) all living in 7.5 square miles. One of the universities we are often compared to is Auburn, but based on size and population that is not a realistic pairing. Auburn is approximately 60 square miles in size with over 53,000 residents and a university with 30,000 students. How about Virginia Tech? Nope, not like us. Blacksburg encompasses approximately 20 square miles with a population over 42,000 and 33,000 students. One of the big differences, in addition to size, is that both Auburn and Blacksburg have significantly more residents than their universities have students, just the opposite of Clemson.
I thought I would look at other college towns to see if there are other cities more like us. The other cities I examined are listed in the last paragraph. My conclusion is that we are unlike any other place. Only one city, Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University, and consisting of 6.68 square miles, is approximately as small in size as we are. The next smallest cities I found were Athens, Ohio (home of Ohio University) at 9.83 square miles, Charlottesville, Virginia at 10.24 square miles and Oxford, Mississippi, 16.5 square miles. Three cities had more students than residents: East Lansing with 50,344 students and 48,579 residents (1.03 students per resident), Orono, Maine, 11,240 students and 10,362 residents (1.08 students per resident), and Oxford, Mississippi with 23,528 students and 18,916 residents (1.24 students per resident). However, none of the three was close to Clemson’s ratio, a whopping 1.73 students per resident! Only one city, Orono had fewer permanent residents than Clemson. The next fewest were Oxford, Mississippi at 18,916 and Oxford, Ohio at 21,371, I could go on but you have the point: Clemson is a unique combination of small size, low resident population, and a high ratio of students to residents. The towns we are most similar to on those dimensions are Oxford, Mississippi, Oxford, Ohio, Orono, Maine and Athens, Ohio.
I am not sure what that all means but I have some thoughts. Because we are so small in size and population, everything we do is magnified in importance. We have very little land so the need to get land-use “right” is magnified. We have few residents so everything is more personal. For example, many issues that come to City Council involve parties who are known to each other as well as to members of Council. It is a challenge to remove personal feelings from decisions. A lot is at stake in our decision making. I think that is why it is so important that everyone has a voice and uses opportunities such as public sessions at City Council and Planning Commission meetings to be heard. The presence of the University is magnified by the distribution of students and residents. It is unusual, maybe unprecedented, that the number of college students in a community is nearly double the number of residents. I think that indicates we need to more fully include students in our decision making process. There is no such thing as “my neighborhood” in our city. All of Clemson is my neighborhood. I could not find the exact dimensions of the city, but at 7.5 square miles that could be something like 3 miles x 2.5 miles. We are never far from one another! And finally, rather than comparing ourselves to Auburn and Blacksburg, we might look at Oxford, Ohio, Athens, Ohio, Oxford, Mississippi and Orono, Maine for inspiration and innovation . It is noteworthy that Oxford, Ohio was the recipient of the 2019 International Town and Gown Association’s Larry Abernathy Award (https://miamioh.edu/news/top-stories/2019/05/town-gown-award.html).
There may be other college towns like Clemson and if you know of any please post a comment. FYI here are the cities I looked at: Blacksburg , Auburn, Lafayette ( Indiana), Bloomington (Indiana), Charlottesville, Athens (Ohio), Laramie, Lawrence, Manhattan ( Kansas), Iowa City, Ames, East Lansing, Oxford ( Ohio), Oxford (Mississippi), Athens (Georgia), Starkville, Bozeman, Orono, and Burlington .
It was not always possible to separate on-campus from on-line students in the counts, so some of the student numbers may be off. It is possible there are other anomalies so reader caution is advised.