Is the Tarnished Image of Northeastern Being Rebuilt?
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Boston - Northeastern University is expanding its campus and student body more and more every year. Just a few years ago it was just a small commuter school, now it is reaching close to the top 100 Colleges and University’s in the United States. The university’s enrollment is now up to over 20,000 students, both undergraduate and graduate students.
Everything is not as peachy as it seems. Since 1990, Northeastern University has almost doubled its size. It used to be on just one side of the Orange Line. Now it goes all the way into Roxbury, Mission Hill, and Fenway.
Residents in the area are a little angry that Northeastern University is coming into their neighborhood and pushing them around.
“I haven’t liked what Northeastern has done ever since they came over the tracks,” said Randall Thomas, 51, a longtime resident of Roxbury.
" In this neighborhood the rents are going up, the students are misbehaving, and the Northeastern police are hassling long time residents, instead of the students. They need discipline and Northeastern has to keep them in check,” said Thomas. Thomas talked about his years living in Roxbury, which is all 51 years of his life.
He said the university has to work with the neighborhood. According to Thomas it is a long standing African-American Community that has its needs and the university should understand that and take that into consideration.
According to city housing assessments, the price of real estate has doubled in some areas of Roxbury. The huge demand for property and the university’s growth has made the once poverty stricken area into a hot commodity for the university and real estate investors.
One building in the neighborhood on Tremont was listed worth of $265, 500. Predictions for the end of the year 2004 have the estimated worth at about $394,000. That is a significant rise in one year.
“Northeastern is taking over, their pushing the poor people out,” said Kenny Miller, 35, and a resident of Roxbury. “Roxbury residents fight to get their homes back, the damn condominiums they built, they’re taking over Mission Hill as well.”
“The students are supposed to be our future leaders, they suck.” said Thomas, “Stop coming in our neighborhood, pushing us. Who do they think they are? Harvard or MIT?”
On the contrary, Northeastern University feels that it is working with the neighborhoods to accomplish good for the community as a whole.
“It takes time for us to expand and we do help the community,” said Christine Phelan, Assistant Director of Public Relations and Communications at Northeastern University.
“It took the government, community, and Northeastern University two years to deliberate if Davenport A and B should be built in the Roxbury area,” said Phelan. Phelan said that the university and community work diligently to face issues between the communities surrounding Northeastern University and the university itself.
One of the examples Phelan gave, was when Northeastern was building its two new dormitories on Columbus Avenue, the residents wanted to make sure there was enough Resident Assistants to regulate the students in those buildings. The neighborhood was scared the students would cause a disturbance.
Before Northeastern University moved onto Columbus Avenue, the lots where they are now located were abandoned for over 20 years. Crime was high in the area, and the overall neighborhood was just not a safe place to live.
This part of Roxbury on Columbus and Tremont Street’s and the South End, was once a very dangerous place to live. The crime rate was frightening and everyone has said to students living there now, that they would never go over the tracks ten years ago.
Times change and Renaissances can occur. Linda Dlugosinski works for Tenants’ Development Corporation, which owns the Dawson-Longley Apartment building on Massachusetts Avenue, right by the Mass. Ave. T stop.
“This is exciting. The South End of Boston and Roxbury are experiencing a rebirth. There is a lot of history here and with students coming in, the Renaissance has begun,” Dlugosinski said.
Apartment prices have risen, property values have risen and some people think it’s a positive aspect for the area’s businesses. Residents of the neighborhood may feel negatively towards the university, but businesses, like Preparations Market on Tremont Street, feel it’s a positive thing to have the university take over low income properties because the prices rise and students fill the stores to buy things.
“It’s a good thing for the area,” said Devin Baker, 40, who has been working at Preparations Market for over a decade. “In this situation everyone gets to make a little money. Kids need somewhere to shop and this is the place. It’s generally good for the area.”
According to United States Census Bureau prices of income is rising in the area along Columbus Avenue from an average of $29,800 and now it is at $97,100 to $210,000. One building in the neighborhood on Tremont was listed worth of $265,500. Predictions for the end of the year 2004 has the estimated worth at about $394,000. That is a significant rise in just one year.
Businesses like the financial benefits they gain from the university’s expansion; while the residents feel a little restless due to the growth of the University forcing them to adjust to change and the unfortunate unruly college kids in the neighborhood that cause some problems. The university, more than ever, is now in a position to try to appeal to residents and businesses in the area, especially since the damage students caused after the Super Bowl has the residents doubting the universities style of handling certain situations and commitment to building a better community between students and residents.
Phelan says that the university is working with the community and that there is a department the university has in dealing with this department is called Government Relations and Community Service.
Director of the Center of Community Service and Associate Director of Community Affairs, Jeffrey A. Doggett explained, “We judge being a good neighbor by being a helpful member of the community, for example doing community service. One of those services was Davenport Commons, where we were the only University in the country to build affordable housing units for community residents not just students.”
Doggett went on to say, “Unfortunately, we are as good as our last weekend when it come to student behavior. If someone is throwing a party and a neighbor complains, that’s all they think of the University. What they don’t know is how our faculty is doing great Urban Research and is researching to have better ties with the community.”
And lately Northeastern University has been taking strides to help mend their despised image chipped in the weekend of April 2 to help clean up the Symphony area. This was a huge success and many neighbors were happy to see the students chip in.
This area was once vandalized by 5,000 student rioters in February. Now it is being cleaned by many student volunteers. Later in the month of April, a clean up effort will take place in the Mission Hill area.
Maybe in the near future, Roxbury area near Columbus Avenue could be cleaned by students as well. This is an on going plan for the University to clean its image that has been dampened by student actions.
On Thursday, March 11, 2004, Community Meeting # 3 was held with President Freeland concerning community issues. The President and Boston Mayor Menino met on March 10th and came up with a four-point plan concerning students and the community post-Super Bowl Riots.
Here is a list of the Four-Point Plan from the Northeastern University Public Relations department website: Student Accountability, Safety and Security in the Community, On-Campus Housing, and Off- Campus Housing. The first point focuses on strict punishments for students who are out of line.
The Housing issues concern a Northeastern University plan to provide housing for 75 percent to 80 percent of the students. The University houses 50 percent of the student’s on-campus as of now.
For off-campus housing, Northeastern University will look at better ways to manage these properties off campus and tracking students who live off-campus. With security, the Boston Police Department and Northeastern University Police, Public Safety, and resident directors need to work together to be able to handle things that can occur in the community.
“We are concerned about students and the community, that’s why we are continually building housing on campus, examples; West Campus G and H are opening. And recently there is a plan in effect to add onto the O’Brien Center to build an additional 250 beds,” said Doggett.
Doggett also approved future steps to building a better community relationship. For example, some of the plans call for more Public Safety Patrols on foot walking around the neighborhoods. For leased units, the University will track all students living off-campus; as well as, making leases easier to break. This could help both students and community residents.
This is a constant effort by the university to clean up its act. Another idea is that the university should make an understanding with the community. Possibly promote what they due to help the community’s surrounding them and the benefits that these community’s get without fully knowing it.
Students also have to understand that they are members of the community and should treat the community with respect.
“I have no problems with the community, I’ve been a student living in Roxbury for two years and I have tried to be the best neighbor I can. I understand that all students don’t but they should realize that they are the community and should respect it,” said Jason Ventling, a middler year student at Northeastern University.
According to Doggett, “Quality Life issues are important. Today’s college students feel they are entitled to party and drink and go crazy wherever they are, Boston University, Harvard, etc. If the neighbor has a problem and yells at the students they respond with, ‘Why don’t you just move.’”
“This sounds counterintuitive since chances are they have been there longer than the students.”
A big goal to for the University Government Relations Department is to get Roxbury and Mission Hill neighbors and invite them to future meetings the University holds on a monthly basis. Doggett also proposed a website, www.grca.neu.edu, where neighbors could send ideas for the future about the University and the communities that surround it. This is a good chance for the voices of the neighborhood to be heard.
Communication is key for both sides to work together to have a better relationship. Only through communication will both sides end a dispute and bitterness that has been growing over many decades.
Certain events didn’t help the situation but with the door swinging open for a good solution for the future; both the University and the community of Roxbury, Mission Hill, and Fenway can possibly live together without further conflict.