University News

Living next door, but a world apart

Fourth in a five-part series

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 2009
This article is part of the series Town-Brown

It can be easy to forget while hurrying from class to class that not everyone on College Hill is a student.

But Providence is not just a college town, and the streets surrounding Brown are filled with people who have long ago ceased to lead the student life. Though many of Brown’s neighbors enjoy living near a university campus, the dramatic differences in lifestyle can lead to some tensions, especially when Brown undergraduates live side-by-side with local residents in off-campus houses.

There are currently 1,263 students living off campus, approximately 900 seniors and 300 juniors, according to Richard Bova, senior associate dean of residential and dining services, and many of them share neighborhoods — and even buildings — with East Side residents.

“In general, our relationship with the neighbors is pretty good,” said Tim Leshan, director of government relations and community affairs. “But when there are issues, it can get strained.”

Love thy neighbors
Brown is an important presence on the East Side, and some homeowners say the prospect of living near the University is part of what drew them to the city.

Allison Spooner, president of the College Hill Neighborhood Association, said that when she and her husband moved to their house on Prospect Street seven years ago, there was a lot of foot traffic from college students living near them.

“We knew that moving here,” she said. “We were excited about staying in that vibe.”
Victoria Fallon lives in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, farther from campus, but works in a restaurant in Wayland Square. She interacts with students and faculty daily, she said.
“A good portion of our clientele are professors and students, as well as people who just live in the area,” she said. “It’s a nice mix.”

“When you’re on Thayer Street, there’s definitely the sense that you’re near a college campus,” she said. “There’s a very young, vibrant energy to college neighborhoods.”
In the seven years she has lived in Providence, Fallon has hired three Brown students as babysitters by posting in the off-campus jobs section of the University’s student employment Web site. She has had good experiences with those students, she said, and she always enjoys interacting with them.

“I definitely think that college students, or at least the ones I’ve interviewed, are very responsible,” she said.

Michael Shore, a landlord who estimates that about seven of his properties have Brown student tenants, also said his experiences have been positive.

“We have a lot of properties and, personally, I wish we could house Brown students in all our buildings,” he said. “We’ve had very good relationships with our Brown students over the past 15 or 20 years.”

“They’re some of our best tenants,” he added. “They pay their rent on time.”

The party problem
When there are issues with community members, they are usually related to noise complaints against students living off campus, which often come from residents on Williams Street, Leshan said.

Williams Street is “a mixed neighborhood,” housing students, faculty and many families, said Evelyn Lincoln, an associate professor of history of art and architecture who lives there.

“There are a lot of little kids, and their parents get up really early,” she said. “Students don’t always realize that, on the weeknights, noise at 11:30 is disruptive.”
Lincoln said that “out-of-control” weekend parties also present a problem.

“It’s not that we expect students not to drink or whatever they do,” she said. “I have parties, too. But when I have a party, the only people who have to know about it are the ones I’ve invited.”

While loud music can be a nuisance, Lincoln said, students yelling and singing in the street as they travel to and from parties creates the biggest noise problem.

Lincoln explained that the conditions of the street serve to exacerbate noise problems.
“These houses are all plain, old houses with wooden fronts and the streets are very narrow,” she said. “The acoustics are terrible.”

Indeed, she said, even noise from regular foot traffic during the day can be disruptive.
“I can hear people talking at a normal level from inside my house,” she said. “Sometimes it’s an interesting conversation and sometimes it’s not, but it’s not what I want to be hearing.”

Bova said he hears many complaints about student carelessness from Providence homeowners.

“Generally what we hear back from off-campus folks is: ‘How can students not know that there’s a family living next door to them? How do they not know that they need to put their garbage out? How do they not know?'” he said.

Both Bova and Leshan said Providence homeowners concerned with noise levels are encouraged to direct their complaints to the Providence Police.

Lieutenant John Ryan, commander of Providence Police District 9, which covers Brown and much of the East Side, said that while his office receives a lot of noise complaints at the start of every academic year, the number of complaints decreases as the year progresses.

Officers typically respond to 10 loud music and party-related complaints each weekend, Ryan said, though that number spikes in early September and at the end of finals period.
Many noise violations seem to be the result of thoughtlessness, not direct disrespect, Ryan said. “Students might not realize that a guy next door has a 3 month-old baby,” he said.

“There’s a few people that are always going to be testing the line,” Ryan said, adding, “95 percent of the students I see are very respectful.”

But Lincoln thinks most, if not all, non-students living on Williams Street have probably filed a noise complaint with the police at some point, she said.

A violation of noise level ordinances usually results in a $200 fine to every name on the building’s lease, Ryan said. He does not usually see repeat offenders and “most of the kids are polite” when the police intervene, he added.

Reece Chandler ’11 lives at the corner of Williams and Hope streets and said his house has thrown “a few” parties since the start of the semester.

Providence police officers interrupted a party at his house once, Chandler said, but it was unclear if their intervention was caused by a complaint from a neighbor.

Chandler said his relationship with his neighbors is “neither friendly or unfriendly,” but that he and his roommates try to be courteous.

“We definitely don’t want to be assholes,” he said. “If we were asked to keep it down at all, we’d definitely turn it down. It’s something that we do think about.”

Landlords can also play a role. Shore stressed that making expectations clear to his student tenants has enabled him to maintain good relationships with them.

“The party students are told that they either have to tone down their modus operandi or not rent from us,” he said. “We’re sort of control freaks.”

“Instead of being reactive, we started being proactive,” he added. “Our thinking is that students are primarily there to study. Small parties that don’t spill out into the hallways or the streets are fine, but we don’t want parties that would hinder other students from studying.”

Sarah Huebscher ’10 lives in a house on Williams Street that she and her roommates share with a “very nice” family, she said.

She and her roommates haven’t thrown a lot of parties and, for her, living off campus is “a good segue into graduation and having to take care of your own things,” she said.
“It all works out quite nicely,” she said of her relationship with her neighbors.

A working relationship
Bova said students violating noise ordinances face University action in addition to a police fine. But in six years, he said, he has never had to deal with a repeat offense from a student living off campus.

All students living off campus must go through an online tutorial program to “let them know wha
t they can expect and how we expect them to behave,” Bova added.

Due to the number of complaints from Williams Street residents, Bova said the tutorial for off-campus living next year will incorporate suggestions from local homeowners.

Both Providence homeowners and University representatives said that open communication is the most important part of maintaining good relationships.

Spooner, who became president of CHNA in August, said she has been impressed by University efforts to reach out to neighbors.

“We’re finding that the lines of communication are wide open with Brown if we have any questions or concerns,” she said.

In an effort to further improve the University’s relationship with the College Hill neighborhood, Spooner said she plans to hold neighborhood block parties that could include students. She also wants to keep homeowners more informed about Brown events that are open to the public, she said, and she welcomes student input.

“Dialogue between Brown and the community has increased,” Leshan said. “Neighbors are very quick to let us know if they have a problem.”

With respect to complaints about loud student parties, Leshan said, “I think that with any campus, that’s going to happen. I worked at Duke University and they had the same issues.”

“We want Brown to be a good neighbor,” he said. “Because we live right in the city, we try to be very respectful.”