Every fairly large college town is basically the same – the bars, the student ghetto, the unusually high amount of coffee shops, the street.
East Lansing and Columbus, Ohio, home of The Ohio State University, are two examples. Each has its fair share of bars, semi-run-down houses, cleverly named coffee houses and the street. East Lansing has Grand River Avenue; Columbus has High Street.
Five years worth of visits to my sister while she attended Ohio State left me with very fond memories of hours spent wasting time and money in the quirky combination of establishments that lined High Street.
I would stroll down the street in pure bliss, checking out the merchandise I’m convinced can only be sold in a college town. I browsed the racks of used clothing, found a long-searched-for tube of green lipstick and longed to go into the tattoo and piercing shop to have my belly button pierced.
Despite my unforeseen lack of money and time to shop my days away, Grand River has proven to be a decent substitute to the ideal I based on High Street. I can still get a vintage wardrobe, a piercing and a used CD collection all within a few blocks.
And yet, there’s something about East Lansing that lacks the unique college-town charm and student-friendly nature of Columbus. Sure, I realize not all cities are the same, but the things that bother me about East Lansing are sort of unsettling.
One gets an immediate sense of college life upon entering the Ohio State campus area. There are scarlet and gray-clad sports bars, shops filled with official apparel that stream the fight song in a constant loop to the pedestrians who pass, shops selling clothes your mother would never let you go out in, coffee shops, restaurants made to “hang out” in for hours and, of course, bars upon bars.
In my sister’s tenure as a full-time Buckeye, High Street changed very little from one visit to the next. With the exception of a coffee shop that changed its name seemingly every week and the expected number of business casualties that would occur under any condition, High Street was a model of consistency.
Grand River, however, in the two years I have been here, has undergone more changes than Madonna’s wardrobe. Businesses have gone out and moved over and buildings have been torn down and put up. Sprinkled among the independent shops are chains I could easily find at any mall.
Now the City Center Project will change the environment more. New businesses will come in, old ones will revamp themselves and luxury dwellings will nestle among the storefronts.
What disturbs me about this is not the business in the center but the condominiums. These living spaces will start at more than $100,000. In a town where students pay ungodly high rent to live in apartments smaller than some dorm rooms, this is the last thing we need.
What kind of message is this project sending to students? “Hi, we have this prime piece of land that would be perfect for any student, but instead, we’re going to put condos on it that you won’t be able to afford until 20 years after you graduate from this place.”
Instead of building more luxury apartments, as seems to be the trend in and around East Lansing, the students could be better served with well-built, smaller, reasonably priced dwellings.
East Lansing is slowly, yet steadily, turning from a student haven to a pre-planned, pre-packaged alumni utopia.
Because of its size, Columbus had the unique ability to be able to let the student area of the city basically do as it pleased. The state Capitol, the ritzy hotels and the conference centers were located miles from campus in Columbus’ downtown. The upper crust made its home in the outlying suburbs and middle- and lower-class families surrounded the city, mostly away from the students.
But East Lansing doesn’t have that privilege. The downtown, the non student residential area, the student ghetto and the business district are all in the same small area. This puts the city council in a hard position: While the students may want one thing, the full-time residents may want another – and the students don’t seem to be winning a lot of the battles.
I understand that the council must do what it believes to be best for the city as a whole. I also understand the full-time residents are the ones who pay the majority of the taxes and the ones who vote the city officials in for the most part. I understand students don’t have a very strong voice in this matter because they don’t get involved and because they are kept from getting involved to some extent.
Everyone needs to remember this is a college town through and through. In fact, the college came before the city. And yet, the town is slowly moving away from its roots. I don’t know what the solution is or even if there is one at this point, I just want some thought and dialogue that weighs both the needs of students and residents.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the city. I just wish it would love me back a little more.
Michonne L. Omo, State News opinion writer, can be reached at email@example.com.