Several weeks ago, a contributor here posted the following photograph. He described it as an image taken from “student slums” and understandably, a student objected to the use of that term. Bryan Bumgardner, who runs the excellent Morgantown Problems Blog, wrote the following:
In all seriousness: slums is kind of a strong word, isn’t it? It carries a negative connotation, if not by definition by colloquial use. Say it aloud: slum. I feel like we need to identify all the players that perpetuate these “slums,” rather than simply identifying the students.
If this site was guilty of only blaming students for the conditions of the neighborhoods that they traditionally live in - places like Sunnyside, Lower Wiles Hill, Lower Woodburn, parts of Greenmont including Lower Greenmont - then I’d take this criticism more seriously, because to allege that students alone were responsible for the horrifying condition of their neighborhoods would be a gross misunderstanding of the situation. There are plenty of people to blame. Those people include:
Landlords often want us to believe that if it wasn’t for their renters, their homes would be immaculate buildings. Landlords are liars. Anybody with even a casual knowledge of the local landlording scene knows that slumlord is a far more accurate term for the sort of business they do. From the negligible levels of maintenance to the flagrant flouting of the city’s rules, landlords care about nothing, and I mean nothing, more than themselves and their bottom line. If you want to start with the decline of neighborhoods, start with the people that own the properties, and then switch your attention to the people that could intervene…
Of course, the people that let those landlords get away with their truly objectionable behavior are the local politicians who are too gutless to intervene in those landlords’ horrifying property management. Landlords are never busted for anything. And local politicians are very careful to avoid doing anything to anger those landlords, like strengthening the regulatory schemes in such a way as to give themselves the tools to deal with the city’s worst offenders. That’s before we start to deal with the county’s embrace of consolidated schools. By taking schools out of neighborhoods, there was one fewer reason for young families to move into those places. There are no schools in the neighborhoods that are now the slummiest. This encourages the sort of transience that brings in…
On the one hand, it is unfair to blame students entirely for the conditions of the places that they live. On the other, it would be insane to absolve them entirely of their own responsibility for what has happened. Students do not generally make good neighbors. Between the aggressive partying and the refusal to invest in the places that they live (because why would they; they’re not going to be there in a a few years), students tend to treat neighborhoods as nothing more than their personal playgrounds, longtime residents be damned. Some students want us to believe otherwise, but I would encourage anybody who does so to actually hang out in any of the city’s worst neighborhoods. Let me then know if you’re witnessing the behavior of people that care about where they live.
What we then have is a multi-pronged problem that has lead to the percipitous decline of various Morgantown neighborhoods, a decline that has gotten so bad that the University’s preferred strategy for fixing the problem - bulldozing entire blocks to the ground and replacing them with new buildings - is preferable. We argued as much last spring, despite the fact that doing so allowed all of the problem’s causers to get off the hook for their behavior.
So in the end, despite the fact that the language of “slum” is a bit harsh, that will continue to be our preferred term, if only because degraded housing that nobody involved seems to care about occupied generally by one particular group sounds an awful lot like a slum.