GUESS 'DISTRICT' SOUNDS BETTER THAN 'GHETTO'

SCOTT WALDMAN STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: D3

Date: Thursday, March 18, 2010

''Education District'' just doesn't have the same ring to it.


The so-called "student ghetto" in Albany is being renamed, apparently.


Press releases from the University at Albany are referring to the zone that runs roughly from South Lake to North Main avenues between Madison and Washington avenues. Of course, school officials at UAlbany and The College of Saint Rose never use the term "ghetto" to describe the area, which houses a high concentration of their students.


And despite the ugly connotations of that word, the ghetto is replete with dive bars, ramshackle housing, red Solo cups stuck in bushes, bad Chinese restaurants and sleep-starved neighbors. Absentee landlords jam as many apartments as possible into the old houses and watch the money pile up as the house gets abused.


Unfortunately, it has become, to paraphrase a 21-year-old student I quoted months ago, an area where adults wouldn't want to live.


That undesirability of the neighborhood doesn't mean the schools and the city haven't tried to clean it up.


Thomas Gebhardt, UAlbany's director of personal safety and off-campus affairs, and Albany police Officer Rick Romand, have invested considerable time in cleaning up the neighborhood. But changing the minds of indifferent college students who want to chug beer and stay up until the wee hours is not easy.


So they're asking for your help. The public is invited to share ideas from 6:30 to 9 tonight at the Saint Vincent DePaul Church, 900 Madison Ave. Likely, the turnout will be low, if barely existent, among those who are actually causing the problem.


The schools and the city got a $95,000 grant from the Capital District Transportation Committee last year to improve the area.


The group has circulated a flier with two photos, one that captures a typical dumpy street scene. In the other, which could be New York City, people with strollers walk by outdoor cafes full of leisurely lunchtime crowds. It seems nearly impossible to imagine the "Education District" full of people who would opt for Perrier and fettucini at midday over Pabst and burritos at midnight, but at least they're trying.


Good luck.


Economic centers


Universities and institutions of higher education are an important part of their local economies, according to a new report.


The Rockefeller Institute of Government, based at UAlbany, found that the schools are more than university centers. They are also places for job training, business consulting, housing rehabilitation and they even secure seed money for new businesses.


The report, called "A New Paradigm for Economic Development," looked at the State University of New York schools as well as institutions in all 50 states, including Western Michigan University, North Carolina State and the University of Memphis.


It found that schools do more than distribute knowledge, they are also a vital economic engine for their communities and an important investment for a state's future fiscal health. The report was requested by and echoes the frequent comments of SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher.


Got a tip? Scott Waldman can be reached at 454-5080 or by e-mail at swaldman@timesunion.com.