Opinion: It’s time to close downtown divide

The administration at ASU Downtown has done little to encourage fusion between campus and community. ASU needs to step up and break down the wall that separates it from the rest of downtown Phoenix, instead of continuing to foster isolation. (Evie Carpenter/DD)

ASU Downtown is run by helicopter parents. They are friendly parents, but they are still helicopter parents. They are the cautious, closed-minded parents that refuse to encourage their children to play with the neighbor kids. They plug in the video game and think their children will be satisfied.

The “It’s Time” video released by ASU earlier this month highlights the university as rejuvenating downtown Phoenix, but the campus administration is doing very little to actually realize that. They are failing to intertwine the Downtown campus with the downtown community. Yes, there are 10,000 students that were not here four years ago, but beyond our bodily presence, we are doing very little for the neighborhood.

It’s time for a change in the mindset and direction of the Downtown administration.

College towns around the country are centered on partnerships between universities and local shops, eateries and entertainment. Downtown ASU has not built these partnerships — at all.

ASU signed a massive contract in 2008 with food provider Aramark that lasts until 2023. It ties the hands of students by forcing them to buy ridiculously priced meal plans. ASU created a food monopoly.

In turn, the administration says it is completely unfair to blame ASU’s policies for the closure of eateries like PastaBar and Verde, both within two blocks of campus. But what did the university do to support their businesses?

The university created an isolated campus. We are sheltered, and it’s time ASU puts resources and time into connecting students with the arts district on Roosevelt and the festivals and activities held on Grand Avenue. We can have all the events and celebrations we want in the shade garden of Taylor Place, but when are we actually going to take a step off of the curb and be a key part of downtown life?

Then again, increasing the cost of the U-Pass to $150 from $80 is the incentive we were looking for, right?

Plans are under way to turn the historic U.S. Federal Post Office building into Downtown’s version of the Memorial Union. One of the ideas brought to the table by an administrator is to make the building only accessible to ASU students. It would be a shame to close out the public to one of the only remaining historic buildings left in Phoenix. That’s not community engagement. We should cherish the uniqueness of our area.

The university is also currently planning out the construction of a downtown student recreational facility. I hope this facility is built in partnership with the YMCA. It baffles me why we would invest in a recreational facility when we already have a stellar setup at the YMCA. Both ASU and the YMCA benefit from each other’s presence.

And where was ASU in denouncing the parking lot built at the site of the old Ramada Inn? ASU allowed the city to build another parking lot that is destructive to the urban environment of our campus.

To counter the new block of hot asphalt, we proposed working with ASU and the city of Phoenix to construct a dog park where the McKinley parking lot is currently located. ASU was not willing to take the extra step in bettering our community. Excuses were made. It was easier to say no. The land has to be used for “educational purposes” because bond money was used to purchase the land. I’m glad that a parking lot meets the university’s standards of an educational purpose.

ASU recently sent a mailer to its alums. With a large picture of downtown in the background, bold white letters read: “With urban temperatures 11 degrees higher than in surrounding areas … how do we design cities that stay naturally cool?” It is a great question, ASU. Unless my knowledge of science is off, I don’t think parking lots are naturally cooling.

Are these advertisements reflecting reality? I am one of the most outspoken supporters of the great attributes of this campus, but there is so much more to be done.

Students need to take responsibility as well. While we bicker about elections and tuition or wave our pom-poms on Taylor Mall, we need to rise above and do our part.

The downtown community is intriguing. This fall, I hope the helicopter ASU administrators begin encouraging their kids to go out and play ball with the neighbors. They are waiting.

Vaughn Hillyard is a journalism sophomore at the Walter Cronkite School and the founder and president of ASU Downtown Alive!


  1. Oh, yeah…totally agree. And, while we’re at it, WHY is there a shuttle from the downtown campus to the YMCA, when it’s just across the Civic Space Park? I couldn’t believe it, and yet, there were students with their gym bags boarding the shuttle. Take a ride to work out? LAME!

  2. Whomever may be a student downtown is old enough to determine what the city has to offer. The loss is really for those who don’t venture out and seize their education. It’s an opportunity to connect with the vast offerings of Phoenix while earning a degree. Neighbors are waiting? True that so get hoppin everyone :)

  3. As a rep from one of those off campus places, I couldn’t agree more.
    Since the downtown campus opened, we’ve been doing our best to get word of our events and offerings to the ASU community, and have been stonewalled and ignored by the admin.
    I co-own an art space/venue that offers just the sort of eclectic (and cheap) entertainment college age people tend to be interested in. I am frustrated that we can’t find an “in” for our community, to the population on our own back yard.
    I find myself on a weekly basis poster hanging on those 2 measly kiosks offered on the campus sidewalks, only to see my work torn down or covered up days later.
    I’ve tired numerous times to leave flyers & calendars at the dorm desks, only to be turned away and told that the “green campus policy” blackballs such distribution. The dorms are more like prison cells designed to keep in inmates instead of housing students.
    I send press releases WEEKLY to the emails listed on this website and have NEVER had a reply from anyone.
    There comes a point where failure to seek becomes willing ignorance.

    We’re here, and we want to be part of your lives, what more can I say:


  4. It’s very possible that closing the historic Post Office to students conflicts with agreements made by ASU and the City of Phoenix,certainly in principle if not written. Since when does ANY Student Union on ANY campus close to only students? Certainly not the ASU Main Campus, where many of the best artworks were hung in gallery spaces at the Memorial Union that benefit the COMMUNITY.

    Promises were made early in the process for a campus that integrated into the downtown, where students would have to walk to classes spread through downtown. That promise evaporated when the build-out occurred, and was put to full demise when the Sahara/Ramada became an asphalt parking lot. Hearing that there’s a shuttle to take students to the Y makes me nauseous. Hearing the same thing from JRC that others have told me confirms that the two kiosks are tightly regulated to only display badminton classes and not downtown events unsanctioned by ASU authority figures.

    I’m a ASU alumni from the 20th Century, when by the time you got to college you were considered a voting age ADULT.

  5. I too have been frustrated by the lack of involvement from the downtown campus and students, especially with regard to the new and awful parking lot. At the VERY LEAST, pervious concrete should and could have been used to decrease urban heat island effect and ozone emissions. When I brought these things up to Dr. Crow, I was told ASU has no control over the city’s 3rd party contractors. Bullshit. (See http://phxosophical.blogspot.com/2010/11/i-think-i-pissed-off-michael-crow.html)

    Speaking of urban heat island effect, my Rogue Green (www.roguegreen.com) group just had an amazing and FREE presentation on this topic which was held at PURL. I would LOVE to see more ASU students at these presentations, but rarely do.

    Keep up the great work and writing. Please let us know what we can do to increase student participation in our community and everything it has to offer – in a way that benefits everyone – including future generations.

  6. Perfect summation of a lot of my issues with ASU when I lived at Roosevelt and Central. The community WANTS the university to be a bigger part of the city, why is the university fighting against it?

  7. The administration wants to segregate the students from the community as much as possible. The reasoning is simple: The administration isn’t done raping the community yet – and they don’t want anyone to awaken the sleeping beast that is the student body until they’re done.

  8. It should be noted that if ASU chooses to close the student area in the post office off to the rest of the public and make it only available to students, it would only be the portion that is about to go under renovation. The entire post office building is owned by the City of Phoenix and will continue to include the public post office, but the area in question is being leased from the city to ASU, and ASU can choose to close that to the public.

    That option was mentioned, mostly be Dean of Student Affairs Georgeana Montoya at the meeting I covered when I wrote the story Vaughn linked to, but it’s still just part of the preliminary planning. There was another meeting April 22 and probably will be more in the future, and I believe they are open to ASU students. For other members of the community, Holly Street Studios is the architecture firm that will renovate the section of the building.

  9. What city in the nation doesn’t have a real downtown Post Office? Did you know that if you have a P.O. Box at this post office and receive a package that’s bigger than your box, you have to drive to the Buckeye Road station to pick it up? The elimination of the loading dock makes it impossible to deliver packages to the post office.

    For all the talk of a vibrant 24/7 city Phoenix once championed, we are missing the vital components necessary for city living.