COLUMBIA, Mo 3/25/14 (Op Ed) -- Poor downtown Columbia. It has so little to offer, it must take the first thing that comes its way: a raft of student apartments.
Or at least, that's what many of our city leaders -- and the crony capitalists who back them -- would have us believe. Saying "no" to more student apartments is saying "no" to ALL development, they claim.
But that's utter nonsense.
They either don't see -- or don't want to see -- the downtown Columbia many other people envisioned: a MIX of housing, not just student apartments, which at their core are nothing more than segregated rental communities.
I've been a residential property manager going on 24 years now, and I have yet to see segregated housing of any kind work: segregated by race, age, income, or type. Segregated communities typically lack the political, social, and economic muscle to keep themselves vibrant and healthy over the long term.
Think about it this way: How much more influence would young renters have if, in their midst, retired condo owners, working professionals, and other more worldly types living around them helped make sure property investors kept their rentals well-maintained? Or pressured City Hall to improve area infrastructure, community policing, crime prevention, and so forth?
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How much safer would a student apartment be if across the street, a couple of working loft owners were home during school breaks?
Columbia should have pushed for such a MIX -- old and young; homeowners and renters; lower income and higher income; students and professionals; retirees and worker bees; gay and straight; artists and artisans; able and differently-abled; black, white -- and sustainably green.
This is the diversity City Councilman Michael Trapp doesn't seem to grasp when he preaches about the Columbia he envisions. This is the diversity that makes communities great, and downtowns thrive, and housing stock livable over the long term.
The beauty about downtown and urban living is that it lends itself to diverse residents. It's not lilly-white suburban life behind guilded gates, or racially segregated public housing behind black wrought iron fences. It generally offers diverse housing stock: small and large, old and new, owner- and renter-occupied. It generally requires less transportation, relying instead on mass transport and pedestrian travel.
Truly diverse downtown living tears down walls and builds up relationships between different people. And because it lends itself to diversity of housing stock by size, age, and architecture, when it's done right, downtown living is affordable to virtually everyone.
What Columbia is getting instead are $600-800 per bedroom apartments that might look pretty on the outside for a few years, but will age badly. The troubles at Aspen Heights and The Grove may be omens for things to come downtown.
That poor construction has caught up to these student apartments so quickly after they opened is troubling indeed. They will age badly, too, and in a few years, what looked like a bonanza to our near-sighted city leaders will show itself to be just so much fool's gold.