The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Downtown needs residences

    Downtown Starkville has many of the functional amenities in place to be a successful and thriving area of the city, but something is missing. There are shops, restaurants, businesses and city government buildings. There is even a healthy “night life” downtown generating needed revenue for the city. So what is the missing component?
    Imagine what goes on throughout the course of a normal day in downtown Starkville. The answer is soon apparent. Early in the morning shop owners, bank managers and city officials begin by opening their doors.
    By noon, downtown is bustling with traffic. At lunch, some workers from nearby businesses walk while students and other citizens drive into the downtown area for the restaurants.
    The commerce continues into the afternoon, when many of the businesses close. The “night life” begins after the sun goes down and people of all ages descend upon downtown to enjoy the casual atmosphere of the restaurants and bars.
    But after the restaurants and bars close, downtown is deserted. The older patrons return to their comfortable houses in the subdivisions and neighborhoods and the students go back to their dorms or apartments at the edge of town, but virtually no one stays. Downtown Starkville is dead until morning.
    The lack of adequate downtown apartments is a problem for several reasons. The first reason is that the demand far outweighs the availability of such properties.
    I spoke with one property owner downtown who owns a building that is perfectly suited for second story apartments. This owner has had a “For Rent” sign in the window for at least two years. The reason the space is still vacant is because the owner wants to lease the space for commercial use. Frankly, a second story office is a tough sell without an elevator.
    The owner also mentioned the amount of interest the “For Rent” sign has generated from college students, but because of pre-conceived notions about college tenants, the owner has no plans to remodel the space into apartments.
    The second reason this lack of housing is a problem involves security. The idea that more people living downtown will equal a safer community stems from the idea that criminals will be discouraged from participating in illegal activities if there are a lot of possible witnesses around. This is one of the strongest arguments for mixed use development. There is no one around to witness crimes in downtown Starkville after the bars close.
    Property owners may feel their buildings are safe because they have a security system or because the police and sheriff’s departments are located downtown. This is probably a hollow hope. I recall one occasion when I sat on the steps in front of the State Theater and talked with a friend from 2 a.m. until sunrise. We only saw one officer drive by.
    Security systems can often be bypassed by even novice criminals. However, very few thieves will break into a building if they know that it is occupied. Housing college students upstairs could be the best security system for any downtown business, and students generate revenue instead of costing the owner money for an expensive security system.
    The third reason downtown apartments make sense in Starkville is that they would help sequester urban sprawl. The past five years have seen the development of vast amounts of apartments and rental houses on the fringes of town. Mostly college students live in these rental properties. These students have to commute to class, and some make the drive between their apartments and campus multiple times during the day. This only adds to congestion on Starkville’s main transportation arteries.
    Downtown is much closer to campus, and if students had the opportunity to live there, many would chose to ride bicycles instead of driving. An even more exciting idea is that the campus shuttle routes could be extended into downtown providing public transit as an option to commuting thus reducing traffic problems on the highways and alleviating some parking problems on campus.
    There are many reasons why downtown apartments should exist in Starkville. But before this can become a reality, several things have to happen. First, attitudes of land owners have to change. Second, city planning has to improve so that zoning laws will promote mixed use instead of discouraging it, and finally the student population needs to have a stronger voice in the city government.
    James Everett is a senior landscape architecture major. He can be reached at [email protected].

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    Downtown needs residences