Stop Colbyville 2k18

Addie Bullock and Camilla diGaloma

Colby College

Colby recently announced that the Portland Pie Company and Urban Sugar will be renting out two downtown retail spaces, with both being directly across the street from the new dormitory. Portland Pie Co. will be situated directly next to the Waterville House of Pizza (WHOP). Ital-iah, a Napoli pizza place is located down the street, and Grand Central Cafe, which specializes in wood fired pies, is just around the corner at Railroad Square. The Portland Pie Company has a higher price point than WHOP, and is a popular restaurant with locations in middle class and upper middle class areas like Portland and Brunswick. Urban Sugar, a donut company with a popular outpost at Sugarloaf Mountain, is also opening a store in Waterville downtown, competing with the homemade pastries from local spots like Selah Tea and Holy Cannoli. In light of the fact that Colby had control over which companies they would attract to downtown Waterville, the student body is questioning who Colby had in mind when they thought Portland Pie Company and Urban Sugar would be beneficial to the town.

The College’s recent efforts are a manifestation of neoliberal politics and an attempt to allure a “creative class” and push out the current population of Watervillians. With the emergence of neoliberal economics in the 1970s, which included rolling back welfare programs, privatization and deregulation, the federal government launched an attack on American cities, in attempts to rid of accumulated areas of poverty caused by suburbanization and make room for a new emerging group of highly educated creative professionals who value alternative art and music, a flexible work environment, and most important “authenticity” in response to a disgust for the fast food craze. Urban Studies theorist Richard Florida identifies this group as the “creative class” and suggests that investment in this group is the source of economic prosperity in cities, an opinion to which he quickly admitted had detrimental effects, as investment in this group distracts from investments in disadvantaged populations who have been ignored for decades. Colby’s investment in “authentic” shops with high prices like Portland Pie Co. and Urban Sugar are direct attempts to attract a creative class allured by high quality artisanal and craft goods, rather than to invest in opportunities that would help the population of Waterville, which has the most fast food restaurants per capita in the U.S.

It is evident that Colby did not give a second thought to what the people of Waterville need. An affordable, health option that both Colby students, a middle-class, and the residents of Waterville would be attracted to. Not only do the new food shops only attract a certain class of people, but they also take away from local businesses in Waterville by reproducing some of our most thriving food industries. These new food spaces are not only a detriment to the Waterville population in terms of health and access, but also in terms of real estate.

The City Council of Waterville approved tax breaks on Colby’s new downtown dorm, while Waterville property taxes have increased. We have heard from local residents about their struggle to deal with rising property taxes. According to the 2011 Maine Department of Education statistics, 60.64 percent of Waterville public school students were eligible for free or reduced lunch. The Mid Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville, located on Colby Street, struggles with meeting demand.

Colby is a business, and it is out for its own interests. Recruiting the talent Colby craves to become a pre-imminent educational institution is reliant on having Waterville being a place where these people actually want to be. Many Colby faculty and staff members choose to live in Portland instead of Waterville, driving an hour and fifteen minutes boths ways rather than live in Waterville. Our art museum, however world class its contents may be, needs people to visit to solidify it as a world class institution. You can only spend so much time at an art museum; the town it resides in has to have hotels, restaurants and shops for its patrons to visit for the rest of their time in Waterville. It’s a symbiotic relationship, but one where Colby is fully in control.

Many people have been stunned by the overwhelming sense of paternalism Colby is demonstrating in its gentrification of downtown. As the Recall Isgro movement gains momentum, with significant support coming from Colby students, claims of elitism and conflict between members of the City Council who are employees of the College have increased. Mayor Nick Isgro’s wife, Amanda Isgro told the Bangor Daily News “I’m a graduate of Bates College and yes, I do feel like I have to make that disclaimer to some of our Colby elitists on the council, who like to make us all feel a little more unintelligent as them.”

Colby has eliminated independent off campus housing, replacing this longstanding option with the downtown dorm. Many of these homes are owned and rented out by locals, and these students use their housing rebate from Colby to shop, eat at local restaurants, and live alongside Waterville residents. This is organic investment in the community, not putting 200 students downtown, forcing the residents to engage in required amounts of civic engagement, putting the City Council meetings in a Colby owned and dominated space, and taking away parking spaces and the space for community gatherings, such as the local farmer’s market.

Last year, centralmaine.com published a satire piece by JP Levine titled “The great awakening of Colbyville” This article poked fun at the role Colby is playing in Waterville. The piece writes about the opening of an underground subway that runs from Waterville to Portland with stops at Gardiner, Brunswick and Yarmouth, the models of Waterville that Colby strives for. This satire, though, seems to be on the path to a new reality.

We aren’t saying that Waterville shouldn’t experience economic development. We do believe that Colby and its wide reaching resources have the responsibility to invest in a town that, once upon a time, when Colby was struggling, raised 107,000 dollars to purchase Mayflower Hill and help keep the college alive. But this economic revitalization must be for all, not for the students who come for four years, spend money eating artisan donuts and splitting overpriced pizza downtown, and then only return to Waterville every five years for reunions. Colby owes Waterville; it is the reason we are this oasis of a campus on a hill, a place of natural beauty. This one sided economic gentrification that benefits Colby is disrespectful to Waterville’s contribution to Colby’s future. Economic revitalization would be better spent in ways very different to how the College is currently spending it. Better examples include the expanding of affordable housing, freezing property taxes to protect long time residents, creating policies that support senior homeowners, and, most importantly, shifting away from Colby-centered development of the city of Waterville, especially downtown.