More than just a college town: the impact of over 30,000 students

Leigh Lockhart: “Your hope is that kids would get that we have a town that Mizzou is only a part of, but I don’t think that will ever happen. ”

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Thousands of undergraduates fill the small but lively downtown community of Columbia from August to May but, as the buzz and crowds of collegiate life decrease when school is out, Columbia has a chance to show a different shade of its diverse public, one that is oftentimes subdued by the massive student population.

The impact college students make on Columbia is profound in both a positive and negative light.

Leigh Lockhart, Columbia resident and owner of Main Squeeze on Ninth Street, has lived and worked in CoMo for over 20 years. Her restaurant windows have been broken by drunken students six times.

“The hope that kids would get that we have a town that Mizzou is only a part of I don’t think will ever happen,” Lockhart said. “Everything cycles out every four years. You teach that group of kids the value of community, then they’re gone and you have a new group of 18-year-olds you’re trying to make that same impression on. It’s just kind of not worth it. We just let them do their thing and hopefully they don’t tear up the place too bad.”

Despite the occasional ruckus created by students, CoMo relies heavily on the University of Missouri. The UM System is the largest employer in Missouri. It oversees three of the five hospitals in Columbia, which largely provide rural health care in the state. Local businesses and residents are vulnerable to the actions of MU and the culture of Mizzou students.

Student townhomes are also becoming a bigger part of the community as they seemingly arise on every block with rent upward of $700 per month. This development downtown, such as the new 10-story, 200-unit Rise housing by Brookside on Ninth and Locust Streets, has had a major effect on the Columbia community. The housing is aimed at students and pushes out local residents that can’t afford high costs of living. Additionally, with the estimated 16 percent decrease in incoming freshmen, private developers are actively trying to get their units filled. And if they don’t, those high rises downtown become empty and expensive.

Downtown housing developments may also impact Columbia in less subtle ways.

“That’s my primary concern, about the increased student housing downtown,” Lockhart said. “It’s just getting really rowdy and loud and slightly less safe than it used to be. I’m super happy with how busy business has been, but the city never made a good plan for the infrastructure of the central business district. I live in the central business district, and basically they've added hundreds of toilets and showers and sinks. That’s a lot of wastewater to deal with old infrastructure that has never been improved. The low-income people and the middle-class people, we’re the ones who have feces in our basement.”

The contemporary housing development’s infrastructure needs are served by city services. A year ago, Trittenbach Development, planners of Brookside development, enlarged the sanitary sewer line on Elm Street as a part of the Flat Branch Watershed Relief Sewer Project 3. These projects become lengthy with new student housing developments, leaving the sewage, electric and plumbing systems unimproved while adding hundreds of people to those city services.

In November, residents in the Benton-Stephens area, the northeast-most section of downtown Columbia, fought developers in order to preserve their neighborhood against redevelopment.

"We just want to protect the neighborhood and … keep it as a family area,” Benton-Stephens resident Michael Ugarte, whose home was next to the proposed six-plex student housing on Windsor Street, told the Columbia Missourian in November. “There has been an increase in student rentals without enough resistance.”

The increasing development reflects the culture of the people and companies associated with MU. Despite some of the university’s aid to the city and the convenience of housing, students and developers alike must remember the values and lives of the native and working residents.

Living in Columba in the summer is eye-opening to the true vulnerability and personality of the town, the same town essential to making Mizzou one of the best schools in the nation. The relationship between Columbia and the university must be respectful and mutual, and that should be actively prioritized by the 30,000 students.

Edited by Claire Colby and Lane Burdette | ccolby@themaneater.com, lburdette@themaneater.com

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