Editorial: Downtown doesn’t suck

The State Press ran an interesting column last week lambasting the Downtown campus and all of its intolerable shortcomings.

It’s small. It’s different. It’s too professional. It’s not “what the ideal college experience is.”

This is a refrain we’ve all heard many times before. Since the Walter Cronkite School moved downtown and Taylor Place opened in August 2008, there has been a steady stream of negative backlash from students feeling detached from Tempe, the real ASU and, if you heard the way they tell it, the rest of the civilized world.

Downtown Phoenix is young and at times may resemble a ghost town more than it does the fifth-largest city in the country. Our campus is even younger and has a lot of growing up to do.

And yes, we’re not Tempe –- but we’re not trying to be. Students looking for what might be considered a traditional college atmosphere won’t find it on the Downtown campus, but whoever said being traditional was a good thing?

If tradition means being a face lost in the crowd, sharing an adviser with 500 other students and getting kicked out of your dorm halfway through your first semester because renovations are so desperately needed, then I’m all for being untraditional.

In fact, being untraditional sounds pretty great. I like going to school in an urban environment where there are hundreds of local restaurants, stores and coffee shops within a ten-minute walk of where I sleep and study.

I enjoy being able to calmly walk to class without fear of being struck by an inattentive bicyclist or zigzagging longboarder.

I appreciate going to classes where the technology isn’t older than I am and where students in upper-division classes don’t have to sit on the floor in the back of the room because there aren’t enough seats for everyone.

Downtown Phoenix and our emerging campus both have their setbacks and are a long way from being anything close to perfect (read: CityScape). But considering all the issues facing higher education right now in Arizona, it’s hard not to be thankful to be a student on a campus that is, for the most part, insulated from the extreme budget cuts and program whacking.

And downtown Phoenix is home to some amazing places, if you just believe in it a little bit. The best pizza joint in the country, as told by the New York Times, lives here in Pizzeria Bianco. Speaking of restaurants, have you tried Matt’s Big Breakfast (where, legend has it, Mayor Phil Gordon and President Michael Crow conceived the Downtown campus on a napkin)? It’s a few blocks north of Taylor Place -– just a hop, skip and a jump away.

What’s just off campus in Tempe? A McDonald’s and a drive-thru liquor store.

Downtown is home to theatres like the Herberger and the Orpheum, where symphonies and ballets roam free, and major sports venues like U.S. Airways and Chase Field. The Suns and Diamondbacks have seen better days, sure, but have you seen the Sun Devils lately? Our football team hasn’t had a winning record in three seasons, our basketball team can’t make a layup and our baseball team is on probation.

And downtown is simply where things are happening, especially now. You’d be hard-pressed to find a city in the U.S. that had more news coverage and mobs of protesters filling the streets than Phoenix this past summer.

Sometimes, I think Downtown students — in particular, Cronkite kids — might have it too good. It’s easy to take for granted new dorms, state-of-the-art facilities and the peace of mind that comes with knowing your major isn’t about to be axed when you’re so far from fraternity row and Sun Devil Stadium.

To those dreaming of getting lost in Tempe, I wish you the best. Tempe has a great campus with hundreds of student organizations and thousands of students who know how to have a good time. But Downtown isn’t competing with Tempe, and it never will. It’s doing its own thing, and while a lot more could be done to bridge the gap between students and the rest of the community, there’s a lot to be thankful for on both sides.

Love the Downtown campus or leave it, but don’t forget that things could be a lot worse. Excuse me for sounding like an old man, freshmen, but when I was your age we didn’t even have a light rail. Or a CityScape. Or Civic Space Park. Or the Sheraton, or Sens… or Hsin…

Contact the writer at dnvolz@asu.edu


  1. I don’t usually comment on online articles but wanted to thank you for writing this, Dustin. I’m proud to be a student on the downtown campus for the very same reasons you’ve listed in your op-ed. Downtown doesn’t suck.

  2. Well said!

    My favorite line from the other column is “Students [downtown] are polite and studious, well-dressed and full of ambition.” Gosh, that just sounds awful (I say with sarcasm).

    Jokes aside, I think our Downtown students are some of the most ambitious, well-rounded, well-educated and socially aware students of all the ASU campuses. Hats off to you, students. You make our jobs worthwhile.

  3. I think many of us agree with this article. Great piece, Dustin.

    It’s nice to feel like a person who matters here, not just one of thousands. There is always room for improvement, but I think we have something special going on downtown.

  4. Dustin, Thank your for saying it so well! I too, love the Downtown Campus. I transitioned from Tempe to Downtown in 2008 and happy to say I still haven’t left. From graduating to now working here, I wouldn’t change it :)

  5. Way to represent the downtown campus. We always do it big down here. If we got haters that means we are doing something right.

    Hate on people cause no one the corner have swag like us :)

  6. This is a great piece. The joy about being a student on the Downtown Phoenix campus is made even greater if you’ve been here since the campus’s beginning in 2006. I remember a DPc pre-Cronkite Building, pre-Taylor Place, pre-NHI2. Even more, in the first years of the campus, it was more alive at night than during the day. It’s great to see that our little campus has grown up. And it’s also heartwearming to see that the things that make our campus unique are still as alive as ever.

  7. As a community member looking in, I love the Downtown campus and what is has done for the surrounding community. I may have gone to the other school down south, but I absolutely love having ASU students who are active members of the community…that is what social embeddedness is about.

  8. Fantastic article Dustin! It really conveys what a lot of students Downtown were thinking when they chose to be at this campus for school. Tempe is huge and crowded and I feel like just another face in the crowd when I am there, but Downtown offers a closer, friendlier atmosphere. I am proud to be a Downtown student!

  9. As somebody who has lived in dorms on both the Tempe and Downtown campuses, I can tell you that Tempe is just as dead around the dorms at night on the weekends as downtown Phoenix. Why? Because everybody is either inside partying, studying, or out doing something OFF campus. None of the dining halls in Tempe stay open any later than the one downtown. Downtown Phoenix has SO much to offer. I moved to Tempe my sophomore year and missed downtown so much that I moved back. Plus, Tempe isn’t the same as it was a few years ago… businesses continue to shut down on Mill and the dorms and on-campus apartments are littered with puke stains and beer cans. Get involved with the community in downtown Phoenix and you’ll discover it’s more vibrant and rich with culture than anywhere else in the city.

  10. It is a gift and a privilege to have an urban campus that the local community pursues to engage and challenge us as students and staff. The rich assets of the Downtown Phoenix campus are the students, faculty, staff and community members that surround it! It is a great campus and a rich foundation for studying both inside the classroom and in the context of the real world. It is more than I could have imagined or desired for a university experience. Tempe is great for those who choose it, and I am ecstatic that DPc is an option for me.

  11. I agree, Dustin. Nice column. Both campuses have their unique atmosphere and they are close enough to one another that students can enjoy both. I’ve heard Tempe students say, “Downtown is for nerds”. It might be more accurate to say “Downtown is for professionals”. Cheers.

  12. I completely agree with you, Dustin. I love living on the Downtown campus and I would have it no other way. I enjoy having the opportunity to go to Tempe and participate in the big school atmosphere, but here I feel like I have a community of people whom I can connect to. I have found many ways to get involved and to thrive on the DPC. While in many ways it would be easier academically if I lived in Tempe, I love Downtown Phoenix too much to leave.