Thursday, July 10, 2014

Where would've been a better place to put Evergreen?

@jeff_james is always on my back about Olympia. It isn't a college town, he says. It doesn't have the normal trappings of the Midwest college towns that he was used to. Somehow it always comes down to college bars, but I think that's just what I remember.

Ken also points this out, that the relationship between Evergreen and Olympia is different:

Nicandri said there’s a lack of things for students to do on the college campus, and its physical isolation causes even more problems.   “There’s no place for a student to buy an aspirin or visit a laundromat or buy other needed items without leaving the campus,” he said.

While touting the great academic component of the college, Nicandri said its time to re-look at the campus and perhaps allow some commercial activities.   This has to be coupled with renovating the existing dorms and constructing additional housing facilities.

“Perhaps its time to talk about requiring students to live on campus,” he said.
Evergreen and Olympia are inseparable, but the reality of their actual physical distance (and irony that people need to be able to drive to campus) has some real impacts. If you are a student with a job or even a family life, its easier to live off campus than on. The cultural mix between the campus community and town is stilted.

Sure, people can point to things we have here (OFS, general art community) that we can credit to the college and its alumni. But, you'd have to admit that these institutions would be stronger and more diverse if the campus was closer (or actually in) town.

Which begs the question, how would the founders of the school, in 1968, found a place closer to Olympia? It isn't like Evergreen is the University of Washington. The UW was founded in the 1800s, and the city and the school literally grew together over time. Now, the school is firmly integrated into the city's geography, but it took decades for that to happen.

What choices did the school founders have in the 1960s to get closer. Turns out, they had at least one great choice, not far from the current campus.

The site where the Olympia Auto Mall, the South Puget Sound Community College and Mottman Industrial Park was nearly empty in the late 1960s (image from Earth Explorer):

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-7wlAMpnXS5s/U77KBXiAUGI/AAAAAAAAB5E/eY0PTN-uAqs/s1600/Olympia+west+side.png

Not only was the site empty (seemingly available) it was also connected to a portion of Olympia that was already developed, granted it was a sleepy residential neighborhood at the time. But, in the decade soon after the founding of Evergreen, the westside of Olympia exploded with commercial and residential growth. Other parts of town I looked at included the general Southeast (less open space, more houses) and Northeast (same). But, I'm curious about other parts of town. Would it have been possible to do Evergreen NYU style? Build a handful of reasonable office buildings downtown? Maybe the emptying of downtown happened 10 years too late for that to work out, but it would've been interesting. Anyway, food for thought.

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