An outsider’s perspective: UB is not doing enough in the Heights
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 23:02
Editor’s note: Edward Benoit was The Spectrum’s managing editor for the 2011-12 school year.
You may remember me from the many hyper-liberal columns I wrote during the fall 2011 and spring 2012 semesters, and maybe also for that one Chris Brown CD review. I’m writing this to provide some outside prospective on the University Heights issue and to confirm your suspicions that UB’s administration is, in fact, not doing nearly enough to solve it.
Some context: My lovely fiancée is currently getting her Master’s degree at the University of Chicago. The University of Chicago is a world-class university that just so happens to be located in the South Side of Chicago. For those unfamiliar with the South Side of Chicago, it’s, for the most part, not a very nice place to live.
Remember that 15-year-old girl who was shot and killed after performing at Obama’s inauguration? That happened in Kenwood, the neighborhood directly north of the one I currently live in. Cottage Grove, the neighborhood directly to the south, is one of the deadliest in the country (despite sounding like something you’d name a gated retirement community, I can’t help but quip). The South Side’s death toll eclipsed that of coalition forces in Afghanistan last year. Last year is not the first year this has been the case.
Luckily for me, one of the few exceptions to this rule is Hyde Park, which happens to be the neighborhood where I live and where U of C is located. The contrast is so stark it’s surreal. Hyde Park boasts not one, or two, but six bookstores. There are three Thai restaurants on 55th Street alone. People ride bicycles to places. It’s like Portland if Portland had deep-dish pizza.
This stark contrast isn’t an accident. Hype Park was (and still is) the subject of one of the most extensive urban renewal projects in U.S. history, all at the behest of the University of Chicago. In the ’50s and ’60s, the university bought large swaths of low-income housing, demolishing some of it and converting the rest into university-affiliated apartments. Today, university police patrol well beyond the bounds of the campus. University police boxes are a semi-ubiquitous site throughout the whole neighborhood, U of C property or no. U of C busing takes students to their doorsteps, if need be, after dark. Since moving to Hyde Park, a movie theater and an Akira have opened, mostly at the university’s behest. Before I leave, Harper Court, a mixed-use retail complex, will be added to that list.
In short, the University of Chicago knows what its business is and sees to it, and I can confidently say my life is better as a result (and I’m not even a student there).
By this point, it should be pretty clear what I’m driving at. UB, whether it likes it or not, is married to its surroundings, University Heights especially. The state of the Heights, both practically and symbolically, says a lot about how UB views its place in the Buffalo community and how it views its students. That UB expects to have it any other way is, in a way, absurd.
That a public (as in, for the greater, collective good) university acts like a truly public institution only when it’s convenient and not when it’s demanded is absurd. That Dennis Black, an administrator with a six-figure salary, thinks he can say UB isn’t in the business of protecting its students and not come across as one or more nouns that shouldn’t appear in print is beyond absurd. That a university with a $700 million endowment has the funds for hydrofracking but can’t be bothered to do the bare minimum with regards to the safety and well being of its students is … well, I think you get the point.
Now, it’s not fair or realistic to expect UB to do to the Heights what the University of Chicago has done to Hyde Park, at least not to the same magnitude. Nor is Hyde Park, despite my earlier implications otherwise, perfectly safe. The contrast between these two institutions and how they’ve decided to deal with exactly the same problem, however, is clear as day. I’ll leave you to ponder what Main Street and the Heights might be like today if UB decided it was, in fact, in the business of protecting its students off campus.