Wash. U. construction on Delmar should hold weekend’s events a stark reminder
Saturday night at around 9 p.m., the police broke up a massive fight on the Delmar Loop and closed off large sections of Delmar Boulevard. Later, at around 11 p.m., shots were fired at the corner of Delmar and Skinker Boulevards, near Church’s Chicken. While no Wash. U. students were directly involved in either incident, students frequent the Loop and are part of the larger St. Louis community, and this incident is just one manifestation of the deep-seated socio-economic problems in the area. It is also significant because Wash. U. is currently planning an $80 million new student housing project for Delmar Boulevard and Eastgate Avenue, slated to open in 2014. While the new housing has the potential to help the area prosper, it is important to remember that improving and integrating a community takes more than simply putting up new buildings. As part of the project, we hope to see a substantive and increased interaction between Wash. U. and the greater University City community. In particular, the University should remain mindful of the surrounding area and take care not to overstep its place.
The stark socioeconomic disparity between the areas north and south of the Loop is central to the problem. The unruly behavior on Saturday night, while shocking, is nothing particularly new for the area. St. Louis is one of the most racially and economically segregated cities in the United States. Students often joke about living in the “Wash. U. bubble” the boundaries of which are at least partially set by the Loop. The Loop, and more broadly, Delmar Boulevard, has historically been a dividing line. In a recent video report, the BBC observed that the median home value north of the Loop is $73,000, versus $335,000 south of the street. St. Louis is known as a violent city; even the area near Wash. U. has a reputation for being unsafe. But the gut reaction of the Wash. U. community is more often than not to ignore the violence and stay close to campus until graduation. While many students may not feel a need to leave the Danforth Campus, both Wash. U. and University City would benefit from a more integrated relationship.
The development project will bring more students to the Loop and open up storefronts as well, which will be available to local business. Hopefully, by extending Wash. U. housing further into the Loop, students and University City residents alike will benefit from the increased safety efforts that will result. If the University’s efforts are successful, the improved security on the Loop may also help Wash .U.’s reputation as a school. St. Louis as a whole has a poor reputation and increased safety in the surrounding area would likely attract more prospective students.
As the University attempts to extend its boundaries, though, its efforts should be on integrating into the surrounding area, not attempting fundamentally to change the community around the school. As Wash. U.’s presence expands, it is important to remain aware of the nature of area, rather than turn a blind eye and remain oblivious. Wash. U. should especially avoid taking a “Big Brother” attitude where it tries to “fix” the community; instead, its approach should focus on collaboration. Putting up new buildings and expanding further into the Loop has great potential but is far from a panacea. The violence of Saturday night, while unfortunate, should serve as a point from which to move forward—not by extending Wash. U.’s bubble over Delmar but by working with the community to solve the larger problems that cannot be solved through construction alone.