Via Abi, here's a recent (well, nearly a month old) article by Sanjeev Sanyal arguing for better integration of universities with urban communities in India. Sanyal's argument is that walling off the campus (as the IITs and IIMs do) causes them to have no impact on their surroundings: to benefit the city, the university system must be integrated into it.
I couldn't agree more. But from a purely selfish point of view, Sanyal's other point -- that it is unfair and unrealistic to expect entire families to live in a remote walled-off location, and unproductive to supply schools, medical facilities, etc at that location simply because the city is too far away -- is equally important.
I just spent two days in Cologne. The university is in a pleasant campus-like space with academic buildings separated by green parks; but the "city" is a couple of minutes walk away, the hotel where I stayed was a five or ten minute walk away, and the main railway station was a 20 minute walk from the hotel (I timed it this morning). There is an extensive tram and underground system but I simply didn't need to use it (but my hosts and I used it once, under time pressure).
Previously, I spent my postdoc time in Paris and New York, and it was a hugely positive experience to be living in the middle of the city and not in a walled-off community. The academic part of my university was indeed walled-off, but New Yorkers will know the special atmosphere that the unwalled New York University contributes to its neighbourhood, the Greenwich Village.
And I grew up in Delhi University, which has lots of small walls but no all-encompassing wall; I think the student and faculty community had a positive influence on the area. Certainly it is one of my favourite parts of Delhi (perhaps the only part of the city that I like).
But the mania for walls is not confined to academic campuses in India. The papers are full of new housing developments that are located an insane distance from the city, but come equipped with school, hospital, clubhouse, and whatnot. Of course, those who can afford these will also have air-conditioned chauffeur-driven cars to transport them. But what is the ecological impact of all this?
Why are our Indian cities often somewhat unpleasant to walk around in? My theory is that the common Indian mindset of separating "shopping" from "residential" areas contributes to it. The newspapers in Chennai are full of complaints from residents in "residential" localities (like Besant Nagar) that shops are infringing their space and causing crowds and noise. But what they don't see is that the commercial activity also contributes to safety. In Cologne (at least in the city centre) you feel safe walking on the road at midnight because there are people around. In Indian residential areas you often don't feel safe after dark. Meanwhile, the "commercial" areas are overcrowded, noisy and dirty, and navigating them becomes an unusually unpleasant obstacle course. A better mixture of commercial and residential activity would, I feel, be beneficial all around: shoppers can avoid the madness of T.Nagar, residents can feel a little more secure (at the expense of putting up with a little more noise). Of course, in addition the usual urban requirements like clean sidewalks, cleanliness, sanitation, are necessary.
Gated communities, academic and otherwise, are an escape from the urban chaos, but I think they are based on a false premise -- that such isolation is desirable. It is not, either for the residents or for the rest of the community.