Saturday, July 5, 2008

Students' impact on Atlanta - Emory

So it has been a while since I have contributed to the series of posts about how the various universities in Atlanta contribute to the urban environment of the city. My apologies. I decided to spend a rainy afternoon putting some thoughts on paper about Emory University.

Emory certainly has a huge impact on Atlanta generally simply by being a top-tier research university. It has a national talent pool of students to draw from, many of whom stay in Atlanta to work. It has a top notch business and medical schools, not to mention an phenomenal hospital. I myself spent countless hours at the old Ronald McDonald clinic for painful and in my opinion useless allergy shots. Emory has a huge economic impact on the city.

Emory's impact from the standpoint of the urban environment is fairly minimal. In contrast to the other schools I have profiled, GSU and GT, Emory has followed a suburban development model. More than even GT, Emory is insular in design. If you are unaware that it exists, it is not hard to drive down North Decatur or Clairmont and completely miss the school. (God forbid you get caught on Clifton during rush hour, though! Abandon all hope...)

While GT has historically been designed around an insular campus, I remarked earlier that the student population had a large effect on the neighborhood of Home Park. Emory again differs from Georgia Tech in that Emory doesn't seem to influence the neighborhood character all that much. A community of professors have long called Druid Hills home, and perhaps this has helped buoy and stabilize the area over the years, but most Druid Hills homes are too expensive for modest professor incomes. I think Druid Hills would do just fine without Emory.

Students who live off campus either blend into basement apartments nearby, chose to live in Decatur, or live in one of the numerous Post-type apartment complexes nearby. There isn't a focal point for student life off campus. Even Emory's off-campus housing expansion (pdf) is suburban and has zero impact on what little surrounding neighborhood exists.

You might think Emory Village would be that focal point, but the little stretch of retail on North Decatur has mostly limped along for the last few years. When I cooked pizza's at Everybody's, the village was a bit more hopping, but not a whole lot. There weren't many empty retail locations, though. Emory Village hasn't really thrived off the nearby student population like you would assume. Revitalization plans have stalled over debates about density.

The insular design of Emory means that most students have to have cars to really take advantage of everything Emory has to offer by virtue of being in Atlanta. From the friends I have talked to that went to Emory, I gather that students congregate in the various retail areas north and east of Emory - Original Pancake House by the Tara Theater, Loehman's Plaza at Briacliff and North Druid Hills, and the strip mall where Wuxtry Records and Choco-latte reside.

All of areas frequented by Emory students are suburban stip malls. When Emory students do frequent urban locations, the location is the draw for students. I think Moe's and Joe's was always a more popular drinking establishment than anything closer to campus, and I know students who have studied at Java Monkey in Decatur. These sorts of establishments really draw their base customers from other communitites, and Emory students and professors simply suppliment this base.

I don't think Emory's impact on the urban character of the city is negligable, but I do wish it were less insular. I also with Emory's expansions were better integrated into the urban fabric.

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