COMMENTARY: Fear of Hub City areas stems from uncertainty

We are Rutgers students, but many of us are also New Brunswick residents. This may seem obvious, but it often feels as if Rutgers students strictly confine their movements to Rutgers property and the popular College Avenue houses and bars. We live somewhere with history, culture and plenty to do, but students rarely break out and venture into our city. There must be a reason why students follow these beaten paths.

I took a seminar on urban management last semester in which my fellow students and I discussed the history of American urban policy and debated the merits of proposed management techniques. One day a student bemoaned that they couldn't walk down George Street from College Avenue to Douglass, attributing it to the level of safety, or lack thereof, that exists outside of Rutgers property. The area between Rockoff Hall and the Public Safety Building was apparently the worst example, and most of my classmates agreed that they wouldn't walk through there.

Confused, I chimed in that I had made this walk dozens of times as a former Douglass resident. Sometimes this was a necessity after the buses stopped running late at night, and other times it was just for fun when there was nice weather. I had never felt threatened there. The quick response was to say that I, a 6-foot-3 white male, had little to be worried about, and the situation would certainly be different for a girl or someone less able to defend themselves. I conceded this point and the conversation went on, but the sentiment struck a chord.

This wasn't the only time I'd heard that New Brunswick's urban core was unsafe for students. While interning at a local business (owned by a Rutgers professor), I was tasked with surveying the city's stock of dilapidated housing, mostly removed from neighborhoods where Rutgers students typically live. I was told that anywhere between Douglass and College Avenue, particularly around French Street and Commercial Avenue, should be observed from a car for speedy getaways. I made this trip on foot and received no more than friendly greetings.

Walking through the aforementioned portion of George Street just this Saturday at 10 p.m., I was reminded of my class. I looked around to see what might bother people about this neighborhood. It is well-lit, its 18 streetlamps dwarfing the grand total of two that line my street, Stone Street, off of College Avenue. There is usually a police car parked at the two endpoints of this walk and often more in between, as was the case this time. I actually received a friendly hello from one passerby, and besides that everyone seemed to mind their own businesses. The street is lined with small businesses, a church, a supermarket, an open-air market and a community garden. I even looked through crime alerts later that night, and none of the last 25 crimes reported in New Brunswick happened there. According to Rutgers' reporting service, crimes actually occur most commonly in the College Avenue area. What stemmed the negative perception of this place?

I don't want to call my fellow students racist for not wanting to venture through a predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood. Rutgers students have more integrity than that — I hope — and would not judge a book by its cover. But I also can't ignore the very real fact that my experience is one of relative comfort. Although people of other genders, races or sexes might not have the same experiences, I also won't ignore the fact that fear of crime is selectively applied to this area, and avoiding or condemning this vital urban corridor is derived from unfounded fears. Instead I will attribute this perception to a fear of the unknown.

To echo Horace Greeley, go out, young student! Stop by Bravo to get your groceries, where they have an extensive array of healthy food and a 5 percent student discount. If you have to get to the Ruth Adams Building from Scott Hall, but don't want to sit in rush-hour traffic, consider making the relaxing 20-minute walk to your next class. While you're at it, hit up some of the many stores and restaurants around Livingston Avenue and French Street. Don't let fear and misperception limit you geographically, and be sure to get to know your city while you're here.

Philip Ripperger is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in American studies with minors in economics and planning and public policy.

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