I have always wondered why students feel safer with each other rather than with locals. The Binghamton locals that I have met have mostly been friendly and kind. But after touring a house in an area made up of primarily locals, I felt uncomfortable. I felt like I didn’t belong there. I felt eyes staring my way and though the locals were speaking in a friendly manner with one another only 15 feet away from me, I felt like we were miles apart. They would never speak to me that way. I was out of place — I was a student and that was obvious to any local.

Nearly everyone on St John Avenue, Binghamton, is a student. My friends all live one or two blocks away from me. Autumn Calegari, a junior majoring in music, said that this added to the feeling of safety in the area.

“With students to my left and right, I know that if I scream, someone will always be there to help,” Calegari said.

Why did I feel this disconnect? My roommates decided against the house for multiple reasons, but one of those reasons was that we would be surrounded by locals. After speaking with Binghamton locals, it became clear that this disconnect between students and the community has decreased over the years. But by looking into the history of Binghamton it is clear that the divides within the area have existed since the area first became a booming city.

Judi Hess, ‘96, director of Visit Binghamton, the official tourism agency of Broome County, described the history of Binghamton and where the divides likely originated.

“The area that we now call the [Binghamton’s] West Side, which is like the Riverside Drive, was one of the places that they built these big lavish homes and they had these big parlors at the front of their house,” Hess said. “For a while, the city had the nickname of ‘The Parlor City’ because these huge homes had these very special areas for them to greet their guests. So that was kind of where the wealthier people live.”

Hess said that the Roberson Mansion, on Front Street, and the Phelps Mansion, on Court Street, in Downtown Binghamton helped define the “wealthy areas.” She went on to describe areas that were developed by upper-class people and how the divides began.

“It was a part of the outskirts of Downtown [Binghamton],” Hess said. “Of course, people, in the beginning, did a lot more walking, so they tried to stay closer to the city centers if you were among the wealthier. I think the Phelps [Mansion] area [and] Riverside Drive were probably where most of the prominent people started and then they kind of moved. A lot of the wealthier people went up on the South Side of Binghamton up on the mountaintop area, looking over the city. That area was the next to get developed by wealthier people.”

The geographical divides within Binghamton originated from those who first settled and developed Binghamton. Those living near the city center, which is now Downtown Binghamton, were typically made up of the upper class while the outskirts of the city center were much more rural.

“It kind of created a divide that there was the city center and the wealthier people,” Hess said. “It was different back then because it was so much more rural as we were developing. People lived still in farmhouses. It wasn’t like the apartment complexes or low-income housing that has been created, so I do think there was more of a divide back in the day.”

The economic divides of the area are still seen today. Low-income housing has been added to different locations within Binghamton, such as the North Side, near State Street and Chenango Street, which may contribute to new socioeconomic divides.

“As you head out of State Street and Chenango Street, away from Court Street, a few blocks [away] you will start to see some lower-income housing that was built,” Hess said. “The city is divided into different quadrants: there’s the West Side, the East Side, South Side, which is over by Number 5 [Restaurant and] the North Side, which is where some of the low-income housing [is].”

As the Binghamton area has grown and developed, the economic divides have become blurred. Today, these “wealthy areas” have expanded and included new areas surrounding Binghamton University.

“I think our ‘wealthy housing’ has expanded,” Hess said. “There are parts of Vestal, especially around the University where some of the more wealthy people live. I think what you’ve found is that now the whole landscape of the area as it became more populated from the city all the way out to Endicott and west and into Vestal. The whole landscape changed, and you find pockets of wealth in almost every little municipality”.

Hess described how the West Side and its houses have been transformed in order to accept more students into the area. While students tend to move to the West Side, the reason for them moving is simple.

“A lot of students do live in what used to be the wealthiest part of town,” Hess said. “The reason for that is that the homes that they built back when they started settling were so huge that people who have bought them now have reimagined them into multiple apartments. There [are] a lot of what they call ‘multifamily’ homes now on that West Side, [which is now] student housing.”

Though the geographic divides of Binghamton may separate students from locals, Hess explained how the town has altered and became more accepting of students.

“Things have gotten so much better,” Hess said. “There used to be a bigger divide between town and gown, but the University has done so much outreach, I think by then developing the Downtown Center and the housing that popped up in Downtown [Binghamton] to support that. I don’t think that there’s a divide anymore. I think that students are actually a welcome part of the community.”

Andrea MacArgel, director of instructional design services at BU, wrote in an email how students have been placed into different patches of the city of Binghamton.

“It seems most students either live in those luxury student apartment complexes/buildings like [U Club Binghamton] or [ 20 Hawley Street], the West Side, mostly east of Chestnut Street and some off Main Street in [Johnson City],” MacArgel wrote. “They move there because other students live there and that is where ‘student housing’ is located.”

MacArgel wrote that certain areas of Binghamton are more diverse than others.

“Vestal and the South Side by [BU] are majority white or Asian, over 90 [percent] for both,” MacArgel wrote. “There are very few Black, Hispanic or other races. The city of Binghamton as a whole is largely white as well, around 75 [percent]. We do have significantly more Black folks, around 13 percent compared to Vestal’s 4 percent and South Side of Binghamton’s 6 percent. Prior to [World War II], Binghamton overall was doing really well. After that, wealthier folks moved to the suburbs, jobs left Binghamton and overall the city declined.”

MacArgel also explained the tension which typically exists between students and locals. This relationship seems to originate from the preconceived notions of locals and students. These tensions originate from the fact that the area of Binghamton was once a booming city and is now an area which relies on students for bringing in the wealth for the city.

“I think in all university towns where there isn’t much else but the university going on there is tension between the students and locals,” MacArgel wrote. “Students are seen as invaders who don’t respect the community. Locals are seen as ‘backwards townies.’”

MacArgel also said the University has proven beneficial to the area.

“[BU] is the largest employer in the area. Without it, the quality of life of most locals would diminish.”

Binghamton locals and students may be divided geographically, but today this relationship has altered and perhaps improved.