Block party connects students with neighbors as University pushes north
With free barbecue, frozen yogurt and root beer floats and the lofts construction in the background, the Parkview Gardens Block Party brought together several dozen students and community members Sunday to mingle. Most of them came for the free food.
As the second annual block party for the area, it looked to help foster interaction with a community that will see hundreds of additional undergraduates when the lofts are finished for the coming academic year.
“There’s definitely the feeling among some in the community that Washington University’s sort of taken over, but it’s also made things a lot better,” Matt Stiffelman, partial owner of Vernon’s BBQ on Vernon Avenue, said.
The area, which hosted a racetrack before 1917, when Missouri banned horse racing, did well in the years following the Great Depression before becoming host to significant crime in the 1960s. While rehabilitation efforts began in the ’90s, it wasn’t until 2000 that Washington University began developing student housing in the area.
The neighborhood had its first block party last year, two years after the school began holding similar parties in Ames Place, the neighborhood south of the Loop.
Vernon’s BBQ catered this year’s event, which also featured Chill Frozen Yogurt and Fitz’s root beer floats. Community members who attended voiced support with the University becoming a stronger part of the community.
“It’s good economically for the neighborhood and culturally. We have a much bigger mix of culture and style and so on than we would have otherwise,” Barbara Frederick, who has lived in the area for seven years, said.
Scherees Merrill, who has lived in Parkview Gardens since 1987, added that the continued development raises property values and stabilizes the community.
“It’s really important to me who my neighbors are,” Merrill said. “Wash. U. does a good job with maintaining their properties.”
Charlene Marks, a member of the Loop Advocacy Association, a disability and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group that started over the summer, said the University’s influence in the area has been largely positive but not necessarily been cognizant of accessibility. She said that in one student housing facility renovated over the summer, the University had the opportunity to make four wheelchair-accessible apartments but didn’t.
Cheryl Adelstein, director of community relations and local government affairs, expects a smooth transition when students move into the new lofts next fall, drawing her conclusion from the fact that many undergraduates and graduates already live in the neighborhood.
“We’re hoping that students who choose to live in the lofts are students who want to live off-campus in a community, so we don’t anticipate there being problems,” Adelstein said.
Kim Sukhum, a graduate student in biology, said she likes living in the Parkview Gardens neighborhood because it’s spacious and the rent is cheap. But she wishes she interacted with more of her neighbors, many of whom also attend the University.
“I keep on discovering graduate people who live right next door,” Sukhum said.
Boahemaa Adu-Oppong, another biology graduate student, said she found the community more standoffish than Houston, where she grew up.
“When you were walking down the street [in Houston], people would wave hello,” Adu-Oppong said. “When you’re going home at night [here], you just [feel the] need to keep your head down.”
Stiffelman said his business catered Sunday’s block party as well as others in different neighborhoods in the past few years to further integrate with the community.
“I don’t necessarily believe in advertising as much as community involvement,” he said. “Something like this puts the food in people’s mouths. It’s a lot of fun, [and] it reaches out to the people right around me.”
Note: This story originally referred to the University’s new apartment complex as the “Loop Lofts.” The actual name (corrected above) is “The Lofts of Washington University.”