The Battle of the Barry Bulge

As the university grows and grows, it has hit some of its neighbors

In truth the area had become more unseemly than unsafe: noisier, busier, and more rundown. White middle-class families, empty-nesters, and retirees had been replaced by Haitian and Latino working families with school-age children. The new residents had less time and money than their predecessors to sink into their homes. Many rented from absentee landlords who rarely visited their properties and did even less maintenance. Paint faded. Grass grew. And after the Shores installed barricades, traffic increased.

In 1994, fewer than two years after her mugging, O'Laughlin instituted her "Pockets of Pride" program, a combination cleanup and crime watch she hoped would improve the area around the campus. The program generated more criticism than positive change, mostly from Miami Shores residents and civic leaders who did not want Barry officials linking, even rhetorically, their tidy village to "troubled" unincorporated Miami-Dade County. It eventually was discontinued.

Undeterred, Sister Jeanne in 1995 formalized Barry's commitment to changing the area by launching the Academy for Better Communities (ABC), a neighborhood outreach initiative. ABC, which partners with local organizations, banks, schools, and clinics to enhance welfare services and counseling programs for local residents, in 2000 received a three-year, $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The organization is investing the money in the general vicinity of the campus.

Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin (at top) and vice president Timothy Czerniec (above) have been the chief architects of Barry's big growth
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin (at top) and vice president Timothy Czerniec (above) have been the chief architects of Barry's big growth

Programs like those sponsored by ABC -- ranging from health services to housing fairs -- constitute a more progressive approach to town-gown relations than that usually adopted by elite institutions of higher learning, says executive director Jacqueline Mondros. "The attitude of places like Stanford, Yale, and Columbia was always, “Let's buy up the area,'" cites Mondros, a former assistant dean at Columbia University's School of Social Work. "Now there's a full-fledged movement on the part of universities to reach out to surrounding neighborhoods in more meaningful ways. Barry is part of a national trend toward much more fluid boundaries."

Urban universities, many catering primarily to white, middle-class students, historically have had tense relationships with the multiethnic, multiracial communities in which they are located. For instance Columbia University has always engendered a great deal of resentment among the residents of neighboring Harlem. The same is true of Yale University, a school with the second-largest endowment of any American university, located in a city -- New Haven, Connecticut -- that for decades has ranked consistently among the poorest in the United States. The source of the conflict often is the perception that these privileged institutions grow richer at the expense of poor, minority populations, either by exploiting them as a source of cheap labor or displacing them to make way for expansion. Sometimes both. The charge typically has carried a great deal of truth.

So, as Mondros points out, universities have become more enlightened, providing an expanded range of services to their host communities and generally trying to forge reputations as good neighbors. They have not necessarily curbed their acquisitive tendencies, however, and the consequences can be disastrous for people who, in every sense of the term, "don't fit."

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), for example, has all but completed a wholesale demolition of that city's historic Maxwell Street neighborhood -- an African-American and Mexican-American enclave that is the birthplace of electric blues -- to make room for a $500-million luxury condominium development dubbed University Village. "The school's main justification for destroying the neighborhood [which bordered the campus] was that it wanted to build parking lots, two dormitories, and a business school," says Steve Balkin, a professor of economics at Chicago's Roosevelt University and a leading opponent of the UIC project. "The real purpose was what in the Sixties [politicians] referred to as “urban renewal' and we more accurately called “Negro removal.'"

Balkin remembers being initially optimistic about the school's stated commitment to the neighborhood, which included luring new businesses to the area. "We said, “Okay, Maxwell Street is a retail district with some empty storefronts. Bring in other kinds of businesses, create a mix of local and national stores.'" UIC, though, had other ideas. "Almost all of the buildings in the neighborhood were torn down," says Balkin, audibly upset as he talks on the phone from his home in Illinois. "There is a sliver of a remnant left: a few people who refused to move, a tailor shop, and a black Baptist church that's scheduled to come down." On the way, corporate retailers like Starbucks, McDonald's, and the Gap.

While UIC is a public institution with state backing and more resources than Barry currently possesses, there are similarities. UIC, like Barry, serves a diverse student population, a fact that didn't keep the school from razing the Maxwell Street neighborhood. (Minority students, according to Balkin, didn't particularly rally around minority residents.) And UIC, like Barry, houses a neighborhood outreach agency: the Great Cities Institute, which, according to its Website, "brings together resources from the community and the university to help strengthen the quality of life for the benefit of current residents, businesses, the university, and other institutions." The agency, says Balkin, undoubtedly does some good, but it chiefly functions as fig leaf to what would otherwise be seen, accurately, as the university's naked self-interest. "When people say [to UIC], “You shouldn't be doing what you're doing on Maxwell Street,'" explains Balkin, "[having the institute] allows the university to say, “No, no, we've done research. We have urban-policy experts.'"

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