By Alex Frandsen, editorial columnist
When was the last time you walked through Ruggles? Maybe it was an hour ago, when you went to get lunch at International Village (IV), or maybe it was a couple days ago when you visited a friend in one of the Davenports.
But when was the last time you kept going? When was the last time you walked out of the station and went down the stairs, passed IV, walked across Columbus Avenue and continued on? If you are the usual Northeastern student, then you might not even remember. Roxbury, the neighborhood lying immediately behind campus, remains largely unexplored by the school community. Combined with the fact that the university has been constantly expanding into the area, a truth has emerged: The school’s relationship with Roxbury is incredibly one-sided.
It is no secret that Northeastern is a rapidly evolving university. With a swift ascent up the college rankings, the face of the school is transforming every year. That speed of change brings an incessant need for physical growth, a need to build more dorms, more research centers and more offices. But in a place like Boston, space comes at a premium, especially when you’re nestled in the midst of neighborhoods like Back Bay and Fenway, some of the priciest in the city. So Northeastern has pushed into Roxbury, adding IV and the Davenports in the last 15 years. Plans were just approved for another dorm in the area, too, a massive 800-bed building on Burke Street.
Pretty clearly, Northeastern is feeding its reputation as a top-tier school by taking advantage of the cheaper land prices in Roxbury. And that wouldn’t be a huge deal if we were integrating the school into the community smoothly. But we are not. There is little interaction between the parties, despite the creation of Northeastern Crossing, a neighborhood center designed to bring the two together.
Think about it. At the beginning of the school year, there are always signs and offers to go on tours through Back Bay or trips to Fenway. But rarely are there any school-sponsored excursions into Roxbury.
It’s not like this is because there is nothing of note in the neighborhood. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The historically black neighborhood has numerous cool places to see, including the Shirley Eustis house, a U.S. National Historic Landmark that was built in 1747. Tons of ethnically diverse businesses line the streets, adding a touch of flavor to a city that can feel homogenous.
The main worry students seem to have is crime. And it is true that parts of Roxbury have heightened crime rates. But if you are smart and aware, it is like any other part of the city. The incredibly low risk of something happening to you is worth it to experience and learn about a new area.
We must do better. We must make sure Roxbury isn’t ignored just because it doesn’t have an Apple store. There is too much for us to learn from the neighborhood and too much we owe them for infringing on long-formed boundaries. Yes, we have a scholarship available for residents of the community. But we can do more.
We can start by encouraging exploration of the neighborhood. A popular activity for Northeastern Housing and Residential Life is to lead runs through different parts of the city. It would be exceptionally easy to add a little three-mile loop to those programs. Roxbury has tons of community events, just like Fenway and Back Bay. Northeastern should advertise them on those emails sent to the whole student body promoting events going on around and near campus. Mentorship programs could be established between Roxbury kids and Northeastern students. These are painless and instant steps to remedying the student body’s perception of Roxbury.
So next time you journey through Ruggles, take a leap beyond Columbus. Bring a friend and wander around. The Dudley Cafe in the heart of the neighborhood is just as inviting as most places in Back Bay and is a good excuse to explore Roxbury. If you want a green space other than the Fens to hang out in, Franklin Park is perfect as well. The Prudential will always be there to visit next weekend.