Of course, future students strive to choose the best academic program possible. But that’s not the only factor you should consider when you pick your school for the next two to four years.

If you are living on campus, how comfortable it is can make or break your college experience as much as academics. Some schools understand it, while others don’t seem to.

So, how do you tell if your prospective college or university does? Look for these seven urban planning features during your online research or virtual or in-person campus visit.

Bike-Friendly Infrastructure

If one of your college-life smart goals is to reduce your carbon footprint, get more exercise, or just quickly travel from point A to point B, bike infrastructure is a must-have for you. On campus, this infrastructure should include the following:

  • Bike lanes, ideally separated from the road, connected all the main locations;
  • Good lighting for the bike lanes;
  • Sheltered bike racks for parking, ideally with code- or badge-based restricted access;
  • Shower and locker room facilities for cyclists.

Pedestrian Zones

The best campuses aren’t designed for cars; they’re designed to be walkable (and cyclable). Here are three reasons why human-centric planning is better than car-centric one:

  • It encourages the population to walk more and, therefore, stay fit;
  • It improves air quality in the area;
  • It reduces noise pollution.

But not all pedestrian zones are created equal. Good pedestrian areas should:

  • Have the necessary facilities to satisfy basic needs (water points, public restrooms);
  • Offer recreational opportunities (skateboard parks, open-air workout areas);
  • Designed with convenience in mind (no steep slopes or slippery paving materials).


To foster inclusion throughout the whole school, colleges and universities have to make accessibility a cornerstone of their campus planning. And even if you’re not a person with a disability, you should pay attention to it.

Some accessibility features, like Braille font, might not come in handy for everyone, yes. (That’s not to say they don’t matter.) But you’ll appreciate ramps and spacious elevators when you move in with two large, heavy suitcases.

Easy Navigation

You don’t want to regularly get lost on campus because it’s not-at-all obvious how to get from your dorm to class. If that happens, it’s not your fault: it means that the place was designed without intuitive navigation in mind.

Comfortable living means you won’t be stressing out about having to write an essay fast while wasting your precious time trying to find your way to the shared commons. So, here are three key signs that indicate that this particular campus will be easy to navigate:

  • There are signs for every point of interest (dining halls, administrative buildings, dorms, etc.);
  • Maps are installed throughout the campus;
  • Pedestrian paths connect every location in the shortest way possible.

Apart from that, you’ll want to ensure you can easily access public transport (bus, metro, etc.) from campus. It should be either a walkable or cyclable distance away.

Green Spaces

Green spaces allow residents to reconnect with nature. They’ve been proven to reduce stress and improve both mental and physical health. That’s not to mention the positive impacts on the environment:

  • Reduced noise pollution;
  • Improved air quality;
  • Cooler temperatures in summer;
  • Better water retention during rain.

Greenery can be incorporated in pedestrian zones and on the streets and roads, giving way to green alleyways, parks, and gardens. Campuses can also include pocket parks, botanic gardens, lakes and rivers, and mini-forests.

You can also check if the campus has any community gardens. While they’re not a must for comfortable living, having access to one can also help you reconnect with nature. Gardening is also one of the keys to a sustainable lifestyle and can become your favorite hobby.

Presence of Shops & Service Providers

If you need to take a bus or walk 20 minutes to go grocery shopping or repair your bicycle, it means the school didn’t take into consideration the commercial infrastructure. That causes inconveniences across the board, from carrying heavy grocery bags to wasting time in transport.

A campus should resemble a small town with its own businesses that can satisfy all of (or at least most of) the potential needs of its population. That includes:

  • Grocery stores and supermarkets;
  • Book and stationery stores;
  • Home improvement and do-it-yourself shops;
  • Cafes and restaurants with dining-in and takeout options;
  • Repair and maintenance services.

Diverse Study & Leisure Spaces

The campus is where students spend most of their waking hours. For it to be comfortable, common grounds should provide spaces they may need in their daily lives.

As students are its main population, this means campuses have to offer two distinct categories of spaces: study spaces and leisure ones.

Study spaces include:

  • Libraries and other quiet study spaces (for example, lounges);
  • Coworking spaces with high-speed internet access;
  • Multimedia resource centers and computer labs.

Leisure spaces should encompass a wide range of opportunities to satisfy the diversity of the demand. They can include:

  • Athletic facilities: gyms, football fields, swimming pools, running tracks, etc.;
  • Cultural and hobby-specific spaces: fine arts centers, art garages, student hubs, eSports arenas, etc.;
  • Social spaces: college cafes and dining halls, student lounges.

Final Thoughts

Your campus experience is a vital part of your overall student experience. Lack of green spaces, athletic facilities, or bike infrastructure can turn your college life into one inconvenience after another.

That’s why campus planning and design matter. At the end of the day, campuses are meant to be well-rounded neighborhoods for their residents. And urban planning principles can help them become such.


Rethinking The Future (RTF) is a Global Platform for Architecture and Design. RTF through more than 100 countries around the world provides an interactive platform of highest standard acknowledging the projects among creative and influential industry professionals.