Clemson Is An Odd Place To Live

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 (

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.

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  1. As a former resident of Orono, I would say that the difference between Orono and Clemson is that Orono is basically on an island and is not located on a main thoroughfare for commuters and truckers driving East-West thru that part of the state (compared to 123 in Clemson). Also, Central, Pendleton and the East part of Seneca is effectively part of Clemson in terms of use of the downtown and traffic patterns (eg Clemson residents commuting to Daniel HS and RC Edwards MS; faculty and students living in those communities), which means those residents are all impacted by congestion on 123.


  2. Always wondered about the size of Clemson – I know you love working there and it has been a good experience. This blog will add a little texture and reference point so I will get a “feel” of the area. Thank you Ellen! Appreciate the invitation. Linda Keith


  3. One of the big problems with Clemson the city geography is the lack of fast routes through the city to other upstate locations.

    123 is a bumper to bumper lock up several times a day because it is the only all 4 lane road through the city.

    93 is now cluttered with stoplights.

    Perimeter road is partly 2 lane and more stoplights are being added.

    The lake and all the other waterways make this a very difficult area to get through.

    Add all the student condos being built, and that will make even more traffic at times.


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