West Campus’ growth and density pose problems for students

Charlotte Swain

In recent years, the addition of large apartment complexes, such as the Block, to the West Campus area has made the neighborhood more populated than ever. The Block alone built six mega-complexes in 2007 and 2008 and two more mega-complexes — the Calloway House and 2400 Nueces — which opened over the summer.  This increase in the development of huge luxury apartments have made West Campus more popular than ever. But it’s also making the neighborhood too crowded. 

West Campus is accepted by most to be the region bounded by Guadalupe to North Lamar Boulevard from east to west and 29th Street to MLK from north to south. While opinions may vary on where exactly the boundaries lie, it is clear that West Campus, though full of life, is not a large area. And yet, due to the influx of high-rise condominium and apartment complexes, it maintains one of the highest population densities in all of Austin. Between 2000 and 2009, the population of West Campus nearly doubled from 10,000 to 17,000 people per square mile. While these numbers would not be considered unlivable in New York or another densely populated city, the rapid nature of this growth could prove to be a very real problem in the near future. As building continues, the price for convenient West Campus living will become more and more unattainable for the average student. 

With no room for outward expansion, the only way for investors to build is up. In 2013 alone, three new luxury apartment buildings, including the aforementioned Calloway House and 2400 Nueces, were added to the already-high number of complexes in the area. These complexes meet what investors view as a growing need for student accommodations to match ever-increasing enrollment at the University, which reached a record of more than 8,000 incoming freshmen for fall 2012. 

However, a report has indicated that enrollment remained flat for fall 2013, and the freshman class returned to a more normal 7,252. Still, according to the report, “The University’s recruiting efforts for this class have focused on increasing yield rates for its top automatically admitted students, who typically have multiple offers from top universities around the country,” suggesting that the need for student housing will continue to expand in upcoming years. With a need for space and no end in sight for the building boom, it seems that the overcrowded streets of West Campus will only become more packed. That’s bad news for students who want to afford both $10,000-$30,000 in tuition per year and the rent on a conveniently-located place. 

In past months, another flaw with encouraging a region to populate so heavy with students. The throwing of “bleach balloons” off balconies down onto the beer-can-strewn streets makes it clear that the residents of West Campus show a lack of responsibility for the space they inhabit. This is no big surprise. Despite the implementation of environmental programs such as Green Greeks, which attempts to provide recycling after large frat parties, there is little incentive to be environmentally responsible for nearly 20,000 20-somethings in such a confined space while everyone is behaving more or less equally poorly. By continuing to cram more and more students into the area, these dangers may become even more pronounced. However, it isn’t only a sense of diffused responsibility that could cause problems. Without a cap on the cost of luxury apartments, the days of convenient and affordable student housing may soon be a thing of the past. Yes, West Campus is not the only place for students to live, but it continues to be the most convenient place near campus.

What, then, is the solution to the need for housing without adding to a West Campus already bursting at the seams? This is not a question that’s easy to answer in Austin, where population increase with no room to grow is a city-wide problem.

Swain is a Spanish and European studies junior from Allen.