Rochester is the archetype for urban decay. It is the poster child for the ill effects of urban sprawl. In this light I was very amused with the recent article discussing whether the Eastman school should remain as separate housing and as a separate campus. I think that best option would be to give students more choice.
I can understand why Eastman students, especially freshmen and sophomores, feel somewhat isolated stuck in their tower, high above a rapidly decaying downtown Rochester. However, instead of abandoning the site altogether, why not open up the space for students at the River Campus who would be interested in what it has to offer?
As a River Campus freshman not so many years ago, banned from moving off campus and faced with the prospect of yet another year in a dorm room, I considered petitioning to be able to live in the Eastman dorms. I hated being stuck on the island of the River Campus with nothing around except the hospital, the graveyard and the mostly residential 19th ward. Luckily, I was able to get a suite in Towers instead and off-campus apartments after that, but the notion of living downtown always seemed intriguing to me.
While the amenities of downtown are few for a student who is new to college and not allowed to have a car, for upperclassmen who want to be off campus it may be a perfect fit. While most social opportunities for underclassmen are on River Campus, after a student has attained the legal drinking age, strip clubs, off track betting and the High Falls entertainment district — all within walking distance — seem like a better deal than the same old parties. It is a little bit of a hike but the Little Theatre and the Old Toad — two of my favorite spots — are also in close proximity.
Right now there is a bit of an energy drain when upperclassmen inevitably move off campus. I know I was less involved in campus life than I should have been, but it is tough to stay involved when you are only around your classmates during the day. Placing River Campus students in the Eastman dorms could give students a way to stay involved in campus life while affording them some of the space from campus and classes they desire. I also believe it would benefit downtown since students of legal age can actually go to the bars, clubs and restaurants.
On the more pragmatic side, if I were a freshman or sophomore at the River Campus and more or less under house arrest, I would fight tooth and nail to keep the Eastman School downtown and to keep the 72 bus. Getting rid of this route would be a blow to students’ ability to get off campus. I look back at that year of misery stranded on the River Campus island and one of my only respites was going downtown, either taking Bus 72 to the George Eastman House to catch a movie, to Eastman Theatre to hear a concert or just to just wander around downtown.
While I made sure to get a car as soon a possible as an undergrad, the route 72 was still crucial. I lived on Hickory Street, which was close enough to bike to campus in good weather, but also on the bus route if I needed it. Route 72 is one of the only remaining the links between the university and what still exists for civic life in Rochester — Monroe Avenue, Park Avenue and the East End district.
The problem Eastman students have seems to be with the bus, and the problem with the bus is the same as with mass transit all of over the country — it isn’t totally reliable. While most of the time the buses come often and on time, there is no reason that it should ever not show up. If the buses ran more on often, especially on weekends, to Monroe Avenue and the East End district, more people would use them. The bus may have its problems but it should be expanded and improved.
When I was on campus I remember how the Office of Residential Life resurrected the Graduate Living Center, when there was a housing shortage. In the past nearly all sophomores were condemned to GLC. However, when Residential Life started marketing GLC to students who liked its more solitary atmosphere and didn’t mind the walk, it became a popular option.
The administration should remember that the most important thing they can do to improve students’ college experience is to give them options. After all, it is the one size fits all transportation model that has given us this cars-only society, and which makes life so miserable for those without them.
Finally, the university cannot be completely divorced from the city from which it takes its name. A healthier Rochester would greatly improve life at UR and I encourage everyone to do what they can to help stop the bleeding. By letting students choose where they live, either the friendly confines of River Campus or the excitement of urban living, we could make life at both campuses richer and just maybe help revive Rochester.
Henry is a member of the class of 2001 and can be reached at email@example.com.