Friday, April 25, 2008

Waterloo's Student Ghetto

Residents living in an area near the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University are demanding that the city rezone their neighborhood. The reason is that so many houses in the area are rented to students that the area is a nightmare for the few families left, and yet it's not easy to sell their houses because they are not zoned for multi-person rental.

The real issue is not zoning. It is that - while many students are perfectly respectable neighbors - some of the students are insensitive drunken pigs. There is a great deal of vandalism around the universities, like wires yanked out of utility boxes and toilet paper and other garbage in trees. Some student houses have unmowed grass, chairs in the front yard, and beer bottles everywhere. Some students have loud, late parties. Many do not seem to understand garbage collection, resulting in garbage blowing in the street and on lawns.

Whatever else is done about zoning, the behavior of the bad students has to be improved. The university administrations, student organizations, city by-law officers and police all need to work on the problem:

- During orientation, students need some training in being citizens. Most are living on their own for the first time, and it is evident that many do not understand how to put their garbage and recycling on the curb. They also need to be told what the noise by-laws are and what the penalties are.
- There needs to be enforcement. If residents call the police about loud parties after 11 or rowdy behavior, the police need to show up immediately and they need to be effective. During peak partying times the police should patrol student neighborhoods, both to curtail loud parties and to prevent vandalism.
- The universities need to step up. Students should be penalized for repeated bad behavior, with a note on their transcript, with rustication/debarment, or with something else.
- Perhaps we should try something new. If landlords faced fines for egregious problems, they might make students pay a fine deposit (akin to a damage deposit) that students get back if there are no fines. Another option is for the city to fine the universities for the costs of cleaning up after students.

When I was a graduate student at UW I went to a couple of big parties at Sunnydale that were appalling: smashing of beer bottles against trees, trashing of townhouses, competing stereos blaring distortedly. There is a culture in this town that that sort of behavior is not just fine for students, but almost de rigeur. I've studied at other universities and that is not the case everywhere. I think the whole town has bought into some notion that if you're a student you should be allowed to get stinking drunk and keep everyone awake all night. There is a sort of implicit "boys will be boys" mentality that applies only to students.

I'm not suggesting these measures because I love law and order, but because there is a crisis in our town caused by the rowdy behavior of some students. The problem goes far beyond the so-called student ghetto.

We have a problem and we need to fix it. It's not fair to the residents of Waterloo, and it's not fair to other students.




Anonymous said...

Being an ex-student at Waterloo, I can tell you the easiest solution to this problem.

Demand the university spend their money on building more student residences for higher-years (beyond first-year) instead of building corporate buildings for offices.

Without that, students will need to find a place to live cheaply, and the student ghettos are naturally the only place they have. Not everyone in those ghettos are bad, but when you have 100 students with 2% who are bad, that's 2 students who will screw everything up.

Warren said...

As a Waterloo student, I very much disagree with your interpretation of our town’s mentality as it pertains to students. Enforcement is generally quite rigorous by both the police and the by-law officers. Most loud parties are broken up promptly and those not respecting bylaws are fined. Moreover in comparison to many other university cities - and certainly in comparison to the city where I am currently living (Berlin) – Waterloo is downright puritanical. As to the suggestion that university’s step up their regulation of students’ off campus behaviour, this is akin to suggesting that your employer sanction you for your private activities outside the workplace which, besides being demeaning to students (who are after all adults, not school children) would be pretty difficult to enforce in practice against all but the most outlandish offenses.

Growing up in Waterloo, I have grown accustomed to the biannual tradition of complaining about student’s which occurs every spring and fall. However, I think that Waterloo residents should consider what our city, and its economy, would look like without the presence of these troublesome individuals.

William said...

Warren, Wilfrid Laurier University already has a policy in which students' off-campus behaviour may be sanctioned, which is accepted upon studying at the university:

And those kinds of agreements are not unusual to see in contracts when working with private companies either. I think it's not demeaning, but holding students up to a higher standard. We can't simply expect the local police to deal with everything.

Yes, we should consider what students bring into the local economy, but residents of Waterloo should also consider if they're willing to stand up for their own right to live in peace.

Bruce Fields said...

The garbage problems in my (student-dominated) complex seem mainly due to unclear overlapping responsibilities between landlords and multiple tenants. E.g. it's predictable that moving out will require throwing out more stuff than usual. Ideally tenants would plan ahead, but they probably won't. Students move out en masse at predictable times, and landlords don't always think to ask for extra dumpsters then.

I wish Ann Arbor was friendlier to high rises downtown, which could open up more walking-distance-to-campus housing for students to compete with the split-up houses in the downtown neighborhoods. But who knows.

It would be nice if there were ways to frame regulation as helping students as well--most of the students aren't necessarily happy with their loud neighbors either, but it's sometimes harder for them to deal with those problems (e.g. here last I checked I think noise regulations only applied to noise across property lines, not to noise from the neighboring apartment).

Our complex isn't actually that noisy, despite being student dominated. There are neighborhoods south campus that seem noisier and messier, and are what lots of people probably think of first when they think of student neighborhoods. But it may be a relatively smaller self-selecting group of students that lives there.

The Ann Arbor city council has wasted time on some regulations (e.g. an attempt to ban couches on front porches) that seemed more an expression of contempt for student culture than an attempt to deal with real problems.

Ho-hum. It's an eternal battle.

Warren said...

I am aware of these policies, but to my knowledge they are generally applied almost exclusively situations of serious criminal misconduct – though I’m not sure so feel free to correct me. The fact that they are not rigorously enforced, though, does indicate to me how difficult it would be to follow-up on such measures in practice. Certainly a university is well within its rights to regulate conduct at university sponsored or related events, or academic conduct. But outside of that, where is the line drawn as to how far the universities should be involved in regulating students’ personal lives?
I’m also not sure that your comparison holds with the private sphere. I can hardly see your employer sanctioning you because you had a loud party at your house during non-work hours or because you were given a ticket for drinking a beer in public (provided of course, this conduct does not impact your job performance). I’m not suggesting we should excuse conduct which violates the law, but rather that students should be held to the same standard as everyone else.