Travis Willmore:A different kind of urban (dorm) renewal

When driving up Broadway on your way out of town, it’s impossible not to notice the beginnings of a massive construction project on the right, between College and Jackson Streets. This is the future home of PSU’s Broadway Housing dorms.

With Portland State now the largest college in Oregon, it should take some of the strain off the overloaded waiting lists for campus apartments and, with a greater percentage of students living on campus, create more of a community-centered environment.

This is also a great opportunity to address the trend of college-housing residents getting sick of living in the dorms after a few terms and going off to live in a house or private apartment somewhere.

Having lived in college housing for the last two years, I am uniquely qualified (in my own mind, at least) to offer some insight as to how a new dorm could be structured to avoid the shortcomings that plague PSU’s current housing options. There is a clean slate to work with now and, with the right kind of planning, something pretty impressive could be done with it.

For residents to have a positive dorm experience, there should be a way to meet other students when they are first arriving at an unfamiliar city and an unfamiliar college.

The way this was facilitated at my old school, OSU, was by having TV lounge/meeting areas on every floor. By the end of my first term there, I was good friends with most of the people living on my floor – everybody kept their doors open; everybody hung out in the lounge and watched TV every night. People tended to leave their doors open unless they were sleeping.

When I first moved to PSU, I unwittingly continued the tradition of leaving my door open and was the recipient of many quizzical looks into my room from my neighbors. Two years later, I still have no idea who most of them are.

The only offering at PSU that compares to this type of thing is the Ondine’s Freshman Experience, which provides programming geared toward entertainment and education of the freshmen in one large herd (while adding to the price of the rent). Common areas on every floor, rather than some kind of analog to the Freshman Experience, are probably the way to go in the future.

The freshmen should be equally dispersed throughout the building, because when they are concentrated together in a small area, the atmosphere tends to become loud, out of control and quite possibly a potential biohazard.

A 21-and-up Experience, on the other hand, would not be a bad idea. Having floors specifically for students 21 years of age and over simplifies the resident managers’ jobs of monitoring alcohol use by minors. Such an arrangement could even be made to provide lots of extra cash flow if a bar were to be installed on the top floor.

Moral issues would doubtlessly be raised by the kind of people who tend to raise such issues, but it would be a big moneymaker that could be used to defray the cost of building the dorm and could eventually be applied to a lowering of college housing rent campuswide.

There’s no reason a dormitory can’t do a little work in paying for itself. It’s better than having all the costs absorbed by the tenants, especially considering that the intended tenants, Dick and Jane College Student, are notorious for their general lack of disposable income. Many other moneymaking ideas could probably be instituted as well. A small casino might be pushing the boundaries a little, but in my humble opinion a bar is definitely within reason.

Ideally, the new dorm would have its own computer lab in the basement. Otherwise, the influx of several hundred new on-campus residents would hopelessly overcrowd the already crowded labs currently available to the general student population. Or better yet, just make the Internet free in every room.

It would also be a good idea to provide some sort of balcony/outdoor smoking area on every floor. If this feature is not available, it will have the same inevitable result that occurs in all current college housing except for the Goose Hollow Plaza. People will go out on the technically off-limits fire escape to smoke or just to catch some fresh air when they don’t feel like taking the time or making the effort to go all the way downstairs.

These balconies, if it is possible to include them, should be on a side of the building with nothing valuable underneath. Other PSU dorms have witnessed the defenestrating of mattress frames, computer monitors, beer bottles, pumpkins and who knows what all else. Maybe the balcony could be open to the outside air but encased in chicken wire.

The other malady that would be avoided by the installation of these balconies is the situation of 10 or 15 people smoking down on the front porch at once. This creates a nasty, intrusive haze for visitors to walk through and lures bums up to the ashtray, who are then more likely to sneak into the building behind some entering student and go take up residence in one of the laundry rooms.

With a little unconventional thinking by all concerned, future housing at Portland State has the potential to rise above the ordinary and create a more fun, productive environment for on-campus residents, the school and the surrounding community. If PSU needs an outside consultant to help them with the decision-making process, they should be aware that my rates are extremely reasonable.