Editorial: Make the South Side our home

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It is impossible to ignore how much of a presence Lehigh has throughout South Bethlehem. With the Path to Prominence initiative, Lehigh’s students and its brand will be even more pervasive beyond the university’s campus.

Part of this initiative involves providing students more housing options — namely within the city of South Bethlehem.

It is admirable that our institution is looking to remain competitive alongside other prestigious universities, while expanding and providing its students with ample opportunity for success. After all, the point of this initiative is to attract potential students and provide value to current students.

While this expansion may provide Lehigh new advantages, it means something different for South Bethlehem residents.

Already, Lehigh’s social scene undoubtedly takes place off campus among full-time South Bethlehem residents. These residents, or “townies,” as students unaffectionately call them, are neighbors of Lehigh students. They are directly affected by our actions.

As demand for off-campus housing intensifies and rent continues to rise, it impacts not only current students but also local residents.

With parties going late into the night with little regard for neighbors who may have to work the next morning, noise complaints are to be expected. This should not be how neighbors are treated.

Students feel as though South Bethlehem is our home away from home. But for full-time residents, South Bethlehem is their only home — and they’ve been here much longer than we have.

The Path to Prominence and the expansion of Lehigh’s presence will permanently change the landscape of South Bethlehem, both physically and financially.

Lehigh’s administration appears to believe this expansion will improve the area — especially to appeal to the university is current and potential stakeholders.

Incoming college students often look for that “cute college town” to spend their four years of undergraduate studies. From an outsider’s perspective, South Bethlehem may not fit this ideal.

However, once Lehigh students immerse themselves in the South Bethlehem community and take time to explore the small businesses that lie beyond the hallowed party grounds of East Fifth Street, South Bethlehem’s artsy charm and authenticity is apparent.

With Lehigh’s expansion, the price of living in South Bethlehem will skyrocket, making it very difficult for South Bethlehem residents who have built lives over dozens of years to continue residing here.

While Lehigh may invest money into local businesses, if the price of living rises like financial commonsense may suggest, it is difficult to tell how long these cherished community businesses will stay afloat.

As students, we should embrace what South Bethlehem has to offer. We should join the Bethlehem community and encourage our peers to do the same.

Whether or not Lehigh students know it, there are gems all throughout our community, making the South Side beloved by its longstanding inhabitants.

Rather than further Lehigh’s omnipotence on the South Bethlehem community, we should support the vibrancy that already exists.

Instead of just considering South Bethlehem our home away from home, we should simply consider it our home.

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2 Comments

  1. Amy Charles '89 on

    I don’t quite get what you’re looking for — are you talking just about neighborliness, or what? Because that’s not likely to happen. What’s much more likely is wall-to-wall vastly overpriced student slum. The only real force against, I think, would be the city council, which presumably has the power not only to zone but to set occupancy rules.

    These are college-town problems not unique to Lehigh/So Beth, and what I’ve seen over the last couple of decades says that unless you have a strong housing-rights council, you get very expensive development with costs stuck to students, followed by retail gentrification or retail desertification, followed by dilapidation because nobody has incentive to keep things nice: students are captive and loaded. The only real deviation I’ve seen is when a very leftist housing-rights council limits occupancy of non-related adults per unit and requires landlords to accept housing vouchers. Were that to happen, I’m sure Lehigh parents would be demanding more dorm towers on campus where the poors couldn’t get in, but I don’t think Bethlehem will get that liberal a govt. So I think you can expect a fast spiral up in housing prices: new townhouses/towers get built, they’re more expensive bc flash, they senesce fast because built cheap but rents don’t get cheaper, new units get built farther out and there’s a new premium for flash, older more central buildings are finally torn down and then there’s a premium bc close-in and flash, etc. I’d also expect more pressure for private bus service locally, which will get built into student fees. Though rising local rents will create justification for new, more expensive dorms. I wouldn’t expect Taylor, for instance, to survive: cute, yes, but think what you could put on that footprint.

    None of this stops, incidentally, till your generation and Millennials get into office and start funding the living daylights out of public universities, which, once upon a time, were good and cheap enough that there was little price pressure from below, incentivizing private universities to charge you all the money in the world for everything related to going to college, and there was no massive private-student-loan industry, because who was taking out the price of a nice house for college, nobody. When the state Us are well funded — which hasn’t happened for about 20 years now — they don’t raise tuitions to the point where mid-tier privates can get away with $30-45k. There’s no point in mad state-U competition for giant-tuition-paying out-of-state/intl students and better faculty that has them building shiny buildings like crazy people on borrowed money, then rolling that into cost of attendance. Meaning there’s no reason for the Lehighs to nod soberly and decide that $70k a year COA isn’t out of reach after all, plat out the surrounding neighborhoods, and invite their architect friends to come consult.

    When everybody has access to something that’s okay, there’s little incentive for the price of someting better to skyrocket. And little incentive for the kind of “certain people can make a buck” development that leaves no one but the developers and banks better off.

  2. I attended in the 1980s, and was therefore a witness to the unfortunate slide and demise of Bethlehem Steel. Throughout this period tension seemed to increase somewhat between town and campus, as Lehigh gradually became more important in the community. Yet I found this conflict – town/gown or town/University –
    really quite illogical and not generally speaking for the betterment of either.

    Witness how much the University adds to Bethlehem: jobs of various types, intellectual and artistic activity as in lectures, the libraries, concerts, and various performances at Zoellner. There are sporting events, and perhaps more simply, all the new and interesting people to meet and interact with. In turn, Lehigh students and professors rely on the town a great deal, as a second or first home. We go there to purchase food, for entertainment, various paraphernalia for our dorm rooms and private use, a night out for dinner or a date, car maintenance, also occasionally for concerts and intellectual enjoyment, as well as many other reasons.

    Conceived correctly, Lehigh adds quite a bit to the town, and this should be duly recognized. A healthy and vibrant L.U. mean very much for Bethlehem, or should mean a lot. Conversely, a strong town is critical for a great collegiate experience as well as being important for professors and administrators.

    Therefore I believe that this town/campus rivalry and tension is really quite inane and should not truly exist. A healthy town is important to a University, and an energetic college is a great boon for a town. This said, both sides should be kind and respectful to the other – and not be selfish. This sounds trite, but it is not, as many on both sides tend to identify with their own limited and short term interests.

    As a consequence, I believe the town, and its leadership, should understand that a healthy college often does need to expand as the centuries role by, and that, far from placing up obstacles should really aid the University in the regard. This said, professors and above all, students, should keep in mind that the ‘townies’ were generally here first, that they are long term residents with jobs and have broadly different interests, and need their sleep as much as the students do. We therefore ask understanding and compassion from the town, and we at Lehigh should be respectful and gracious.

    If both sides can make efforts to this end, that sacrifices sometimes have to be made for greater long term interests, I believe we can eventually develop a finer Bethlehem as well as a greater University.

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