No good neighbours here

Emily Kozien-Colyer on studentification, an answer to Elly Veness’s piece in the paper this edition.

At some point in their University career everybody has to live in privately rented accommodation. Of all the demands on our check-list when searching for a suitable house the question ‘what are the neighbours like?’ doesn’t really figure. The only time I have heard it mentioned is when friends are also moving in a few doors down, because at some point down the line the street’s population changed from residential to student. Why is this, and is this kind of segregation understandable?

The most common complaint against having students as neighbours is clearly noise. Having acknowledged this point I think we can safely move on knowing that, for one, consideration remains part of our vocabulary despite these 3-4 years of apparent self-involvement, not every student comes attached with loud-speakers and, importantly, everybody needs to sleep.

However, it is quite easy for me to acknowledge that despite living in the same house for two years, I am not a ‘good’ neighbour. I do not know the names of the people next door, never mind having exchanged keys in case either of us gets locked out. I do not have a well stocked cupboard; I would not be able to lend a cup of sugar. If they were going on holiday, would they feel comfortable asking me to water their plants/feed Tiddles the cat/watch out for burglars? If my house had a front garden, knowing that my residence was merely transitory, I doubt that I would lovingly tend to its appearance.

These are just a few of a host of small but collectively vital details, which make me able to understand the plans of York’s City Council to create purely residential areas. I think it’s fair to say that students, who live in Badger Hill for example, gleefully citing ‘location’ to less-fortunately resided friends, do so because of the close proximity to campus rather than the area itself. As students our sense of community in York is situated on campus, within colleges and societies. Hence I am more likely to flinch at rubbish left strewn close to the lake and resident ducklings rather than the mess outside my only-temporary front door.

This being said, there is clearly a big problem given the paradox of an expanding student population and a limitation of prospective private accommodation planned by the Council. It’s all very well offering students glisteningly-new accommodation in Heslington East during their first year, but where are they supposed to live for the rest of their time at York? Will the University then turn its back, saying that their responsibility has been fulfilled, and leave them prey to landlords ever more conscious of their desperation to simply secure somewhere to live?

Therefore, whilst the City Council listens to the reasonable concerns of its residents, I would hope that the University involves itself in the proceedings as representative of its students. With this kind of pre-emptive responsibility hopefully residential areas for the citizens of York will not equal distant and dilapidated ghettos for the city’s students.