Why don’t more students Pop the Bubble?

By Mary Koziol

I lived either on or around campus for my first five years at McMaster, and it was just over a year ago when I graduated and secured a full-time job on-campus that I moved to a new place outside of the “bubble”. It isn’t quite downtown (in between Queen and Locke) but it is far enough away that I’ve gotten to experience a completely different side of Hamilton.

After a full day of exploring the area, I found myself asking – why don’t more upper-year students venture farther off-campus into the downtown area?

I know it is a bit of trend in my program, Arts & Science, for upper-year students to migrate downtown. From what I understand though, this is an anomaly. The majority of upper-year students I know stick to the Westdale/Ainslie-Wood area.

Now I have to admit I have a significant bias – I love Hamilton for all of its quirks and charm. It’s a great mid-size city (Toronto is too big for me, Ottawa too sprawled out) – there is an abundance of natural beauty, and I’ve actually had the chance to see some of its shining features – like the waterfalls, Cootes Paradise, the Farmer’s market, the Harbourfront, James St North (and the monthly art crawl), various museums and the Art gallery.

But recognizing my personal bias, I still think there are neighbourhoods within the downtown and surrounding area that are perfect for upper-year students. The neighbourhood I’m in is completely walkable – I’m 2 minutes away from Locke St (one of Hamilton’s gems, I prefer it to even Westdale), across the street from a park/recreation centre/tennis club and a few blocks away from a dog park and community garden. There are several coffee shops and libraries within walking distance and a Fortino’s just on Dundurn. I’m close to Hess Village, but also, less than 10 minutes from the home of all my favourite bars and pubs, Augusta St. There’s a wonderful sense of community in and around my neighbourhood – there are families intermingled with young people, and there’s a vitality to the community – I can always hear people playing soccer or basketball, or kids playing in the park. Finally, I’m 10 minutes from the bus lines and if I time myself well, it takes me the same amount of time to get to McMaster as it did when I was living on Hollywood St (close to Fortino’s on Main St W). Biking is another option (though I admit, in terms of bike lanes there is room for improvement) and can get me to work in 20 minutes flat.

I recognize that what I look for in a living space is not the same as every student. However, since moving here, I feel happier, healthier and more at home than I ever have before in Hamilton. So, my question to all of you is, why don’t more students leave the bubble in their upper-years? I doubt it’s the pricing as housing in the downtown area is quite affordable, as elsewhere in Hamilton. Is it the transportation time? Perception of downtown as being a “sketchy” place to live? Desire to live close to friends? Want to live in a “student” area where keggers and house parties abound on weekends? Uneasiness about having to take the transit late at night? Or just lack of information about downtown being a viable place to live as a student?

Mary Koziol lives in Hamilton and works at McMaster University.