What are we doing to the Loop?
One Friday night, a Wash. U. student wanders to the Loop. Brand new office buildings have emerged on the street, breaking trend of architecturally retro and eclectic buildings on the Loop. Everywhere, the student sees Wash. U. students hanging around. After hours of wandering, he finds that appearance-wise, nothing is different from main campus.
This is a scene set in the future. But this is the future toward which we are pushing the Loop. Last Wednesday, the model of Wash. U.’s first official Delmar Loop apartment plan was announced. The first wave of students will be able to move in by Fall 2014, and when the project is finished, 550-600 students will occupy the new apartments. As a freshman, I am grateful that I can live in a brand-new apartment when I become a junior. However, seeing Wash. U. becoming a more influential figure in the Loop, I’m worried what impact we are making on surrounding communities. That impact is not always good for the community, and in this case, maybe not even good for us.
The new apartments will feature a Wash. U.-red color and a modern complex appearance, with 22,000 square foot storefronts. This style makes it dis-harmonic with most buildings on the Loop, which are generally eclectic, small, delicate and retro-feeling. These new formal, giant office-style apartments, once plugged onto the landscape, may be “knitting together the western part of the Loop and the eastern part of the Loop” physically, but they will break up the Loop aesthetically.
With students moving into the new apartments, many more campus issues will also be brought to the Loop, essentially making the Loop part of campus. Even though we are now decently removed, we’ve already made a footprint in this neighborhood. The community’s complaint about our partying and loudness initiated the over-pass construction; our urgent need for security dragged WUPD patrol vehicles and close-circuit cameras into Ackert Walkway, the direct path linking Wash. U. and the Loop. For now, the amount of foot-prints maintains a delicate balance. Although we may run into friends on the Loop on Friday night, the Loop still symbolizes off-campus experience, where a significant part of our impression of St. Louis comes from. We expect, and we get, a different experience from the Loop, and when we hang out there, we want to hang out “off-campus”—out of the Wash. U. bubble. This will no longer be true in the near future. With 600 students in the new apartments on the Loop, the community experience of living off-campus will rapidly diminish. It is probable that more measures will be taken for security, transportation, consumer services, or even alcohol control. On top of that, our out-of-town-ness will no longer be trivial enough as to be easily assimilated by the community. Our venturing out into the community is just like trying to step on the grass to get a feel for it; when the number of people doing so reaches hundreds, the grass dies and the gardener won’t be happy. When local residents realize the difficulty of assimilating us, it is natural they won’t be as warm and welcoming.
That said, the new buildings still have to be constructed. We need more housing. As the enrollment has continued to grow larger each year, we have witnessed the stress on student housing. This year, some housing for upperclassmen has been given to freshman, like Rutledge. Complaints about the conditions of off-campus housing for upper-classmen is also far from news. Indeed, the new apartments will simultaneously benefit us and the community, as is shown in the Parkview Gardens Vision Plan of University City and the Loop Area Retail Plan. However, is there really nothing we can do to make this project even better?
For the new buildings, which we consider to be part of a community plan, why don’t we take a step further and integrate the styles of the buildings into the community? For us students, maybe rather than imposing ourselves and making it cater to our style, we should act more scientifically: observing, experimenting, studying, understanding and not destroying the sample.