Monday, October 16, 2006

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

UWM Dorm opposition

The sign shown below cropped up in front of a couple of East Side houses some time in the last few days:


It's a potent symbol of an unfortunate trend on the East Side: general opposition to the presence of UWM students.

Columbia-St. Mary's is moving out of the multi-building hospital complex that stands across the street from UWM's landlocked and desparately overcrowded campus. The conclusion is logical: UWM should take it over and use it for dorms and classroom space. But homeowners in the area seem prepared to take up arms against it.

Opposing the deal is a bad, bad idea.

The first thing that one has to remember is: the University was here first. Its original incarnation was here before the neighborhood itself, and its current form was here long before most of the East Side's residents. To move to the East Side and then fight against the presence of students is counterintuitive, to say the least.

Second, UWM students drive a huge portion of the neighborhood's economy. They provide steady and reliable rent to local landlords. They support the stores, theaters, bars, clubs and restaurants which provide the area with its urbanity; their presence is the backbone of the neighborhood's street life. If the East Side is a good thing, then more students will only make it better.

Local homeowners seem to have two basic concerns: parking, and noise. Ironically, putting dorms in the old hospital will help relieve both those problems.

On cars: Students who live in dorms don't need them. Their social life is right on campus; they don't have to travel to classes or to eat. This is especially important since dorm space on campus is already so limited; a bulk of students only live in the dorms for their first year, if at all. After that, they're either living in the neighborhood or commuting in from elsewhere -- both of which tend to bring more cars into the neighborhood. UWM is already a commuter-heavy campus; anything which can reduce that is good for streets of the East Side which are already crowded with parked cars.

On noise: Putting students on campus provides them with some geographic isolation from the neighborhood. I have students partying in the alley behind my house every September, and it's not the end of the world; however, their numbers might be reduced if more of them were living on campus. Keeping students off campus is likely to increase noise in the neighorhoods; more on-campus dorms -- as well as open and reasoned dialogue between residents, students, and the university -- will reduce it.

Capping enrollment at UWM ties the hands of the instution and harms the city as a whole. It will not solve any of the existing problems between UWM and its neighborhood, and by curtailing the density of the neighborhood, it will limit the East Side's ability to reach its full potential as an urban environment. Turning the hospital campus over to the university for dorms and classrooms is the best and highest use of the land and buildings.