Diverse, yet shrinking, population still calls Spartan Village home
Turning off of Harrison Road into Spartan Village, it seems like a ghost town. Many parking lots sit completely barren of cars, and playgrounds remain unbothered by children. The community center, like many other buildings on site, have closed down as the population nears a seemingly-inevitable zero.
But the aging complex isn't dead, just in a prolonged state of limbo. Since at least 2013, rumors have circulated that Spartan Village would be replaced, demolished, or both in the near future. Yet even as its supposed replacement opened this year, international families, graduate students and the occasional undergrad have stuck around.
Xiao Wei, a visiting scholar from China, said except for her unit and the former apartments now serving as a makeshift community center, she often feels like she is living in an "empty village."
"I was shocked that most parts of Spartan Village are kind of abandoned, nobody moving around," Wei said.
Wei lives in the complex with her daughter, Caroline Tian. The East Lansing High School freshman said she isn't alone as a high schooler in Spartan Village; there are six or seven other residents who ride her school bus. Although it isn't always for the best – stink bugs and other insects are regular annoying visitors – Tian appreciates feeling a closeness to nature at Spartan Village, something she didn't experience much back home.
"I like how they do the grass and trees and things like that," Tian said. "It's quite different from the place where I lived in China. It's so crowded, and buildings and traffic jams are everywhere. I feel more like living and relaxing here."
Sprinkled among the open fields and parkland are nearly-identical apartment buildings that don't appear to have been updated since they were constructed over 50 years ago. Residents don't seem to mind. Senior biochemistry major Niyla Reid said the buildings' 1960s aesthetics don't matter to her at all.
"It's really nice, it's comfy," Reid said. "It doesn't look that good on the outside, but it looks good on the inside."
Those aesthetics matter to the university though. The complex's old age is a major reason it is slowly being phased out in favor of the shinier 1855 Place. Once billed as the "new Spartan Village," the recently-opened development ostensibly serves the same purpose, but at a far different price point. The cheapest two-bedroom apartments at 1855 Place cost a flat fee of $875 a month per person.
The most expensive two-bedroom units in Spartan Village cost a total of $864 a month in 2016-17. Since a maximum of five people could occupy one of these units and split rent, the bill per person could have been as low as $172.80. Reid, who is in her second year at Spartan Village, said that if she had to move out of her current apartment right now, 1855 Place simply would not be an option for her.
"Yeah, there's no way I'd be able to move out there at all," Reid said. "It's way more expensive."
Reid shares the apartment with her roommate, which is just one of many household dynamics to be found even as Spartan Village empties out. Even before shrinking, the complex catered to families and student parents with a child care center, playgrounds, and even a public elementary school that closed in 2003.
Some villagers, like Clarence George III, choose to rent their own personal units in the somewhat-secluded community. The doctoral student in African-American and African Studies joked that while he was "too grown to be living with anybody," he thinks Spartan Village is well suited for anyone, from parents of small children to students like himself who fly solo.
"It's a family atmosphere over here. You got folks that bring their kids out and kids play," George said. "You can get studying done, it's not loud. It's pretty convenient to me, it's quiet. I like quiet."
Although it's quieter than it used to be, residents like Wei and Tian still find ways to keep themselves busy and enjoy their residence. Since moving into their apartment in September, the mother and daughter duo have been taking advantage of the last few weeks of Michigan warmth, regularly taking walks around the 70 acres of brick and greenery they'll call home for a while.
"It's warm and comfortable and sometimes you can see people, so we choose to get out to take a walk," Wei said.