As Binghamton University expands into Johnson City with the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SOPPS) and Decker School of Nursing, it must be cognizant of rising concerns about the economic dynamics of the area.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has allotted $60 million for the construction of SOPPS in the hopes that the school would bridge the divide between the seemingly old-fashioned manufacturing-based economy and the developing futuristic economy of innovation and technology. Though the Editorial Board acknowledges that this is a necessary and benevolent ambition, we harbor apprehension about the manner in which it will be carried out. The University may not fully realize the effect it will have on the community it is entering, and may unintentionally create a larger divide than it is bridging.
The University posits that the Johnson City campus will bring drug, device and supply companies into the community and create jobs. There has been no consideration, however, given to the residents of the community who may not be equipped or trained to fill these potential new positions in these industries. Shifting the economy of an area requires work to grow and maneuver the skill set of the population.
Though the University is initiating these changes, it has taken no apparent action to help adapt the labor power of the community to the newly developing economy it is fostering. If the people living in the community don’t have the skills of this industry and don’t have the opportunity to learn them, they will be forced out of their homes to find work.
As students begin to further integrate themselves into the Johnson City community, they will inevitably start living in the area, replacing those community members who had to flee with students who are only around for part of the year. Though this can bring new income into the area, it can lead to the gentrification of the community as well.
We have seen a similar gentrifying effect occurring in Downtown Binghamton as well as on the West Side of Binghamton. Downtown has begun to flourish in recent years, with more and more restaurants opening up to serve the growing student body. Unfortunately, this development has come at the cost of some of the community’s citizens. As students have moved into these areas, they have driven rent prices through the roof. Many of the community members can no longer afford their homes, and have had to relocate themselves and their families.
Though there are some potential problems with BU entering Johnson City, there are potential benefits to reap from the implementation of the Johnson City campus. Johnson City is a generally economically underprivileged community, as it used to be primarily an industrial and manufacturing community, and SOPPS will hopefully do as Cuomo said it will and bring drug companies to the area to create jobs for its inhabitants. However, throwing money — even $60 million — at the community will not necessarily revitalize it. The community needs real, thoughtful policy and action in order to grow and flourish.
The University does have a responsibility to the communities it is a part of, but that responsibility is not purely economic. BU must acknowledge that there are no easy solutions to the larger issue of poverty, and Johnson City is no different. The construction of the Johnson City campus may be a step in the right direction, but alone, without job training programs, it is simply not enough. In the coming months, as construction concludes and students, faculty and staff begin to come into the area, the Editorial Board urges the administration and members of the campus community to tread lightly, listen to the response from local residents and be mindful of the neighborhood they are entering.