The city of Northfield is home to two of the top liberal arts colleges in the midwest, our beloved St. Olaf College and Carleton College across the river from us. This means that Northfield is host to around 5,100 college students, approximately a quarter of Northfield’s total population. This is a significant number of students when put into perspective.
In recent years, complaints have arisen regarding Northfield’s accommodation of these students, especially when it comes to dining facilities. While St. Olaf and Carleton have dining halls of their own, it’s always nice to venture off campus and enjoy a bite to eat in town. Northfield makes this pretty difficult.
When I assess the city of Northfield in its lack of proper, student-centered places to eat, I’m looking at a lot of different factors. The main factor in determining whether or not Northfield is properly accommodating a quarter of its population is the fact that the vast majority of these college students lack access to cars. While public transportation is offered, it often doesn’t work well with students’ busy schedules.
One may argue that Northfield has a fair amount of shops for a town of its size. After all, it does have a Target and a Cub Foods. However, the vast majority of these shops and restaurants, like Target, Cub Foods, McDonald’s or Perkins, are located along Highway 3/Dahomey Avenue. These are locations built for cars, meaning that proper pedestrian accommodations simply aren’t in place.
In addition, many of these places are a long way from the two colleges, especially St. Olaf. I took the trek down to Target on foot one afternoon, and even while jogging for a majority of the trip, it still took me almost two hours back and forth. This clearly isn’t conducive to a student’s lifestyle. When you look at other college campuses, there is clear infrastructure which supports students who want to venture out to shop or get a bite to eat. Northfield simply doesn’t have this.
The second problem I have with the current state of shops and restaurants in Northfield is the inequitable distribution of locations. The downtown area of Northfield has two coffee shops within a two block radius and another just across the river. There are four antique shops within the same general radius, and another couple of thrift stores for clothing. However, among these coffee and antique locations, there are only a few places to enjoy a meal that aren’t expensive or time-consuming.
These two variables, expense and time, affect college students the most. Northfield doesn’t seem to consider these when implementing new shops or restaurants. I have no qualms with the walkability of the downtown Northfield area. It is relatively easy to access on foot, it just takes a little bit of time. But this little bit of time should be worth it. Right now, it’s definitely not, unless you’re looking to find some cool knick-knacks or grab a cup of coffee.
For Northfield to become a more attractive and accommodating town to its large population of college students, it should focus on integrating modern, fast-food chains such as Chipotle or Panda Express into the scope of its downtown area. Additionally, improving the walkability and shuttle service to the multiple stores located on Dahomey Avenue would serve students well.
If the community were able to achieve these two goals, it would make the entire city of Northfield more attractive to students considering attending one of the two local colleges. Already, Northfield and the two colleges have a lot going for them. If the city were to introduce a Qdoba to its downtown, or shift more financing towards some sort of taxi service, it would be instrumental in making Northfield a modern collegiate gem of the upper midwest.
Jacob Maranda ’22 (email@example.com) is from Rock Island, Ill. His major is undecided.