Harrisonburg, VA officials reported today that a large, 19,000-student university – James Madison University – appeared overnight unexpectedly, just south of their downtown area. The city of 45,000 residents is said to be in shock at the development and governmental agencies are working diligently to develop the infrastructure and pizza delivery restaurants necessary to deal with the population influx.
Yes, it’s a joke news story. But in another sense, it’s not far from the truth: JMU’s growth in the last two decades has caught Harrisonburg and city services by surprise.
The riots of Springfest 2010 should have been warning enough that when a community’s population periodically increases by 50% – and specifically in the unpredictable 18-22 age bracket – there are going to be consequences. And most of them will be negative if adequate supervision or a sense of community is not in place.
I’m not advocating that Harrisonburg adopt a police state. In fact, I’m not even necessarily speaking of the police. I’m wondering about absentee developers and landlords who irresponsibly allow uncontrolled juvenile behavior at and on their properties, conveniently taking a tax deduction on damages and subsequent repairs. I’m wondering if perhaps Springfest should have been nipped in the bud a few years ago or at least some highly visible controls placed on it – and who might have gained while it wasn’t. I wondering about what the inspection records might disclose about the construction of some local student housing.
If you think I’m being a bit paranoid to include developers and landlords in the list, perhaps you haven’t heard the latest party-related news in the area. A 3rd floor apartment in the Hunter’s Ridge complex apparently hosted a party of such immense proportions and incredible density as to collapse the trusses, obliterate the apartment underneath it, and finally come to rest on the first floor. Does that apartment complex sound familiar? It should. It was one of two major areas of the Springfest party and subsequent riot.
And in today’s Daily News Record, I read about a conference to bring the city and the university community “together,” as if being blurrily adjacent to each other is not enough. One conference participant speaks of “the JMU bubble” in which some students are described as so removed from the Harrisonburg community as to be unable to give directions to downtown – which is one straight mile north on a heavily developed Main Street.
This confuses me. Because those same students are somehow able to travel, intoxicated at times, 3-4 times that distance, on less straight and true avenues, to live in outlying apartment communities such as Hunters Ridge. If this depiction of university students is correct, a conference is not the answer and JMU should raise its admission requirements immediately.
No, the students are not the ones who necessarily need an orientation to Harrisonburg, VA. It’s the other way around.
WVIR-TV, Charlottesville [9.20.2010]
Apartment Near JMU Collapses
Hunt, Jeremy. “Breaking Out of ‘The JMU Bubble:’ City Summit Aims to Bring Students, Community Together.” Daily News Record, 09-22-10.