|Living In College Town
GARY McLENDON & BRYAN SCHWARTZMAN
On a crowded Queens residential street a desperate student
late for summer class searches for a parking spot. Luckily a spot opens up, as a resident
leaves for work. This is just one hypothetical situation which can arise in Queens where
the educational, working, and residential spheres all share the same space.
Anytime a major educational institution exists side by side
with a residential neighborhood, the potential for tension is created between the benefits
the college brings to the community and the increased congestion and headaches that go
with such benefits. With two million people and five major schools in the borough, the
question is even more pronounced; do colleges make good neighbors?
"Colleges can be a source of a lot of positive things,
they have cultural programs, concerts or a good plays people can go to without traveling
to Manhattan," said Corey Bearak of the Queens Civic Congress.
"However, some of the colleges expanded after other
things [such as churches, synagogues] were there, making parking and life very difficult.
Colleges and their relationship to communities have been
examined ever since St. Johns announced that for the first time it was going to
build dormitories on its campus along the Grand Central Parkway. The plan called for
several new buildings which could house a total of 2,800 students. This sent several local
civic groups into an uproar.
Dormitories Tower Over Union Turnpike?
As a result of continued community opposition, St.
Johns University has reconfigured its dormitory construction plan. The school will
reduce residence hall heights from 12 to five and six stories. The announcement was made
last week during a meeting with community groups at the St. Johns campus. This will
be the first time that any college or university in Queens will have residence halls.
"In residential areas, colleges cannot and are not good
neighbors," said Frank Skala of the East Bayside Homeowners Association. "If
they were in a commercial area or a central business district area, they might have some
effect on business and be positive, but in a onefamily residential area they have no
effect whatsoever that is positive."
Despite the controversy surrounding the St. Johns
dormitory plan, university spokesperson Charlotte Tomic said the plan is going ahead as
"The plan is on schedule. What is being built right now
are the residential halls," said Tomic. "The first residence halls are scheduled
to house 700 students by 1999."
St. Johns has been in existence for 125 years44
of them on Queensand does much more than cause controversy in the community. Among
the many positive public sources the school provides are: The elder law clinic,
Psychological Services and Clinical Studies Center, and the Speech and Hearing Center.
Several other schools throughout Queens are in the midst of
large initiatives which could alter the relationship between college and community.
LaGuardia Community College has just announced the largest
planned expansion in its 25 year history, but unlike other colleges in the borough this
major initiative has not prompted public opposition.
"There are very few homes nearby. This is mostly an
industrial area," said LaGuardia spokesperson Randy-Fader Smith.
The college has acquired a nine-story building and adjacent
properties which will increase the size of the school by 70 percent. The school already
uses three floors in this building, and will renovate the building for full use over the
next five to seven years.
"This exciting acquisition will allow us to grow and
expand into the 21st century," said President Raymond Bowen.
The $54 million purchase includes the Center III building, an
industrial-loft building which occupies the entire block. School officials said this new
building should boost school enrollment from 9,500 students to over 12,400 by the year
Dean of Administration Richard Eliott said the college will
be lobbying state, local, and city legislators to obtain funds for future renovations. He
said plans for transforming the college into a four building "campus" would be a
The "Queens Schools"
Both Queens College and Queensborough Community college exist
adjacent to residential neighborhoods.
"I have been here for 12 years and there have been very
few complaints. If people have a complaint they can always talk to me," said
Queensborough dean Helene Hyland.
Hyland said the school offers an extensive continuing
education program and community members often take classes in art, drama, and other
subjects. In addition to the various artistic and cultural events which take place at the
college, she also cited the Holocaust Research Center as a place which has received
tremendous use from the community.
Queens College is often referred to as the "jewel"
of the CUNY system.
"[We do] all kinds of things that outreach to the
community," said Queens College spokesperson Ron Cannava. "We have a Center for
Unlimited Enrichment, computer training, luncheon lectures, year round programs including
jazz and classical music."
Parking Without Spaces
Yet as is often the case in Queens, where rows of houses line
streets neighbors have difficulty designating parking spaces.
Parking has been a major issue at both Queens College and
Queensborough Community College. On-campus parking at both schools is limited, so the
residential side streets often become gridlocked.
"Parking is a constant cause of complaint... and
were trying to accommodate the students as much as possible," Cannava said.
"Community is our name, its not just our mission
to help those who register," said Queensboroughs Hyland.
Queensborough offers some great services to the community,
but its existence has hurt the Jewish Center of Bayside Oaks, according to the
centers rabbi for the last 44 years.
Some neighbors of Queens College are
concerned that the school will follow in St. Johns footsteps and build dormitories
Tribune Photo By Liz
"Parking has been an ongoing problem for many years; our
activities, our membership have all been affected," he said.
"They should build a decent amount of parking," he
He also stressed his synagogue is still supportive of the
school and actually housed some classes while the school was being built.
Hyland said the school has tried to address the issue of
The school has switched from a decal parking system to a
token parking system. The decal system allowed only a certain number of students to park
in the lot per semester. The token system allows students to buy for particular days,
which should cut down on unused spots and therefore reduce on side street parking.
York College Welcome in South Queens
York College has had a positive impact on the surrounding
Jamaica and South Jamaica neighborhoods. The college, also part of the CUNY system, is a
four year liberal arts college with 7,000 students.
"I think that theyre a very good neighbor,"
said nearby resident Josephine Munden. "They seem to have a great interest in
children. You see all of the school buses. They always have plenty of kids."
The college hosts a monthlong free National Youth
Sports Program, and the summer youth sports camp drew 300 Queens youths, ages 10 to 16
from across the borough.
"Theres loads of others that we do. We often work
with the community," said York College spokesperson Dawn Kelly.
The NYPD Summer Youth Camp also utilizes the York College
Campus two days a week. The camp serves 250 youths between the ages of 8 and 18.
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?
Students, administrators, politicians, civic organizers, and
home owners cant seem to agree on whether colleges make good neighbors. As long as
two American dreams, one of education and one of home ownership in a residential
neighborhood, are neighbors, it appears constant communication and establishment of
boundaries will have to take place.
Dhaval Mehta contributed to this story