Written by Michael Gioia, AmeriCorps VISTA, co-editor and staff writer
Ghetto: 1. a part of a city in which members of a particular group or race live usually in poor conditions; 2. the poorest part of a city
The word ghetto, obviously seeped in negative connotation, can mean a number of things to different people. If you’re really into history, the ghetto primarily refers to the segregated street or corner of communities’ that Jews would be forced to inhabit within an urban area. If you’re really into hip-hop, the ghetto is of course the place harkened back to by formerly poor, now record label rich rap artists. Neighborhoods like Queensbridge in New York, Englewood in Chicago, or the entire city of Detroit are examples to name a few.
But the ghetto I am about to discuss is not nationally recognized like the household names aforementioned. This is a new kind of ghetto. It follows the traditional guidelines, but there’s something scarier and more oppressive about this ghetto. I’m talking about college or student ghettos, and in particular, the University at Albany’s Student Ghetto.
Why do you I find student ghettos so astounding? Because the potential for vitality, energy, and progress are squandered by people in a position to do more. College students are educated (debatable) and so they should have the tools and wherewithal to make more out of the situation they’ve created for themselves in Albany. Students with self-actualization (not the students I’m talking about) can make a deep impact on their campus and community, because they understand the tools they have at their disposal.
UAlbany’s Student Ghetto Geographical Facts
The area of Pine Hills east of Main Avenue and north of Myrtle Avenue is commonly referred to as the “student ghetto” due to its predominant population of college students, many from Long Island. I can write articles… ARTICLES… about my views on Long Island, but I’ll save it for the coffee table book I am writing One Thousand and One Places I’d Rather Be Than Long Island – grab a copy, the picture captions are wonderful.
Above is a really bad map of the Student Ghetto. Google Maps wouldn’t let me embed the really nice map I made with designated pins and polygons. Oh, well.
Property value in the student ghetto has been steadily declining and decaying. At one point in time, maybe in the 1970’s, this section of Pine Hills would be considered fine and livable. But not any more. Not since slumlord absentee landlords started moving-in and renting exclusively to students, focusing on twelve month leases that shuffle students in and out like a revolving door.
Other Student Ghettos Nationally
UAlbany is not an anomaly. Many major public universities nationally also have student quarters, or sections of the city that are primarily inhabited by students. Some are worse than others, but Albany is unique. It’s not considered a college town, like Penn State or the University of Maryland. The major distinction to make between a student ghetto and a college town is in the syntax; one is obviously a ghetto, the other a town. You can come to your own conclusions as to what differentiates the two.
- Tuskegee University – Alabama
- The United States Coast Guard Academy – Connecticut
- New Jersey Institute of Technology – New Jersey
- Albion College – Michigan
- University of the Pacific – California
Our Ghetto Gripes in Albany
In July, two roommates and I moved into an apartment on Hudson Ave in the world-class renowned Albany Student Ghetto. Let me begin by saying that we were ill-informed and so making a sound decision was not in the cards. Previously, we spent weeks coordinating with a rental property agent, scouring listings across the city. We’d ask her to find downtown listings and each and every time she’d get back to us with listings in completely different neighborhoods. With little time to spare and not a lot of knowledge about the area at our disposal, we made the decision to hop into the Hudson apartment, because it was the cheapest one we could find with a location close to downtown.
The environment we saw in July, (middle of the summer = no students), was much different than the reality we lived through since our mistake of moving-in. We were placed on the first floor of a two-unit property with, drum-roll please………….. Three college girls living above us! YAY! But these aren’t just any old college girls, no, no, no. These are real American, entitled, self-absorbed, coke-addicted and malnourished, Long Island chicks with no regard for human life, or at least the people living below them for that matter.
The girls were loud, as if I needed to say that. They threw parties when they were told not to by our landlord. And they still haven’t learned that wearing heels indoors isn’t necessary since they’ll end up walking home the next morning without them anyway. My personal life took a hit. No longer could I look forward to normal sleep patterns, since I wasn’t sure what time of night the animals upstairs would be feeding or mating. Living in the apartment began to take a turn for the worst, since the nature of the problem we faced was persisting all around us: The student ghetto.
I never really felt pleasant or safe walking through the neighborhood that surrounds our apartment like a shark-filled tank. Take a step onto our front porch and behold a group of twenty-something’s across the street drinking on their porch in the middle of the day. Wait a few hours until it gets dark and the roaches come out. Students traveling in packs recon the streets for house parties or scantily clad women to hoot and holler at.
Implications on Cities
Colleges and their students bring activity to towns they inhabit. However, this activity is far from being classified as beneficial for the town and its neighbors. If anything, this kind of activity can put a real hurt on the local economy. First result of student-populated neighborhoods is a decrease in property value. Students, or class-takers that don’t earn wages, cannot contribute to the local economy. The big beneficiaries of this: apartment slum lords, liquor stores, bars, and drug dealers (all of which have their place and thrive in Albany).
Walk around the neighborhood and look at the result. Dilapidated, unsafe, and crooked are a few great terms that come to mind when I think about the properties that line the streets of the student ghetto. No reasonable person wants to buy a house in this neighborhood. The remaining landlords operate as slumlords, repairing as little as they can to get the next set of destructive bodies through the door, so mommy and daddy back home can keep writing those rent checks for Susy who went for Halloween as a naughty little nursing student this year. Make ‘em proud, Susy.
Albany can be a beautiful, historically rich place for individuals and families to enjoy. So why it that the State University housed here does so little to promote and protect that? Why are we allowing these slumlords and students to ruin the city we all call home? Why stand by and accept the notion that, well, every city has its’ rough sections? I’d like to do something about it, but since I am moving 2,000 miles west to San Antonio in a few weeks, it seems as though my chance to shape this forgotten piece of Albany is already behind me. Nevertheless, I will share my thoughts for improving the student ghetto in real, tangible ways so that maybe there will be hope for others like my roommates and I.
Where to go from here…
The most important step in improving the state of the Student Ghetto in Albany is accountability must be shown by both the University and its students. A collective effort, no, a University-wide effort needs to be implemented and taken seriously or else the current condition of this subset of the city will never improve. Leaving it to the slum, I mean landlords, is the absolute wrong move.
In 2010, the Albany Student Press published a piece called, “What’s in a name: A new look for the ‘student ghetto'” which covered a public workshop intended to discuss the issues facing the neighborhood. The workshop focused on safety and development as their main concern, but also voiced a motion for a change in branding. Let’s face it UAlbany, you’re going to have to stick with the term Student Ghetto until you can prove that the situation in Pine Hills YOU created can be fixed. You don’t just get to decide to change a name and expect a cultural shift to follow magically. You have to first put in the time, effort, money, and resources into improving the area, then you can worry about naming the area something more respectable. Mind you, that public meeting took place in 2010. Four years have passed and the neighborhood is as bad as it has ever been.
So UAlbany, this is one’s on you, bro. I’ll toast you with a Natty Ice, Student Ghetto-style when the day you improve this area arrives. Until then, I’m out of here.
Imgs via (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)
- Albany’s ‘student ghetto:’ From energy into decline
Also check out:
- SUNYPartyStories on Twitter for embarrassing and degrading self-posted photos of SUNY students (so you at least know where the money is going).
- Youtube video of the infamous Kegs and Eggs Riot of 2011, the ultimate display of destruction and a glimpse into what happens when you let college students create an autonomous ghetto.
Follow Michael on Twitter @mfgioia