Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Playing the Prison Card at BC

Residents, local elected officials, and Mayor Thomas Menino have all argued for increased undergraduate housing on BC's main campus, while BC has argued for locating new dormitories on the former St. John's Seminary land -- and converting their recently-purchased apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue into a dorm -- based on the argument that any increased housing would make the main campus too dense.

Now BC's director of public affairs, Jack Dunn, increased his rhetoric again by saying Tuesday night that the housing on part of their Chestnut Hill campus is so dense that to find denser housing "you would have to go to a prison."

Dunn's prison remark was met by a series of moans -- "aaaawwwwwwww" -- from the crowd. They weren't buying it at all.

Dunn's prison argument against housing density, as it turns out, rests on analysis of a gerrymandered map of BC's Chestnut Hill campus. A fairer comparison without using a gerrymandered map shows that BU has a substantially higher housing density on their campus than BC has on their Chestnut Hill campus.

Gerrymandering at BC

Dunn's argument relies on a peculiarly-drawn map of BC's Chestnut Hill campus -- a feat of gerrymandering that would make former Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas Finneran proud. [See red dotted lines in figure at right from BC's presentation to the June 14, 2008 meeting of the BC Task Force.]

By drawing the lines in such a way, Dunn makes the argument that BC's proposed housing plan places 4700 students in 40 acres comprising part of their "lower" Chestnut Hill campus.

In fact, by drawing the lines this way, Dunn and other BC officials have actually mixed up the boundary between lower and middle campus in their diagram -- including some parts of the middle campus (those that have dorms) while excluding some parts of the lower campus (those that don't have dorms).

The 6/14/08 presentation commits the misrepresentation to writing by referring to the map above as part of "lower campus area studies," when in reality the area enclosed by red -- and the statistics drawn from it -- includes buildings from the middle campus. In particular, the dorms Gabelli, Ignacio, Rubenstein, and Voute Halls, and 66 Comm Ave, are all identified as middle campus dorms in their DPIR (Table 6-1), yet are strangely included in the "lower campus area studies" diagram.

Draw the lines differently, say, to reflect better the underlying geography and you would get a different answer in terms of student beds per acre.

One thing is for sure: gerrymander the area studied and you'll always get the answer you want.

Comparing Housing Density at BC to BU

In making his case for a campus prison, Dunn was, in effect, implying that Boston University ought to be renamed Boston Prison University, because its undergraduate housing density is substantially higher than BC.

Just compare the housing density in BC's entire main campus at Chestnut Hill to BU's entire campus in the Kenmore neighborhood. No gerrymandering required.

BC currently houses 6455 students (DPIR Table 6-1) in their 118-acre Chestnut Hill campus (DPIR page 1-5), corresponding to 54.7 beds of housing per acre. BU currently houses 10,617 students on their 133-acre campus, corresponding to 79.8 beds of housing per acre -- 46% more dense than BC's campus.

These numbers will not surprise anyone who has seen the tall dormitories that BU has built in order to house their students: BU has a higher housing density than BC. Just stating the obvious.

And I don't think anybody would call BU a prison.

Spokesman Bats 0-For-2

Spokesman Dunn continued to try to make his density argument against new, main campus dormitories by pointing out the usage of all the other facilities there. "It's other functions in that part of campus" that contribute to the density issues, such as the Rec Plex (or its proposed successor, the Recreation Center). He estimates around 8000 students use the student center daily, and around 4000 students per day use the Rec Plex.

The problem is: by adding more students into the calculation, the addition of 500 beds of undergraduate housing to the lower campus becomes even more diluted, weakening his argument.

Adding 500 beds of housing to 4700 is around a 10% increase in the number. But adding 500 beds to 4700 beds plus 8000 students using the student center plus 4000 students using the Rec Center, and the increase is number of people is only 3%. (Yes, his argument does suffer from substantial double- or triple-counting, since many of the same students live on-site, use the student center, and then use the Rec Plex all in the same day.)

By adding all the extra users of the student center and Rec Plex, those 500 more student beds appear to have a more minimal impact. Probably not the conclusion he was shooting for.

A little piece of advice: stick to the housing argument sans Rec Center.

UPDATE: The Allston-Brighton TAB reports that Dunn is backpedaling on his prison comment:
Following the meeting, a college spokesman had to repeatedly defend words he thought may have offended the community...

“You’d have to go to a prison to find that kind of density,” said Dunn. Dunn later told the TAB that he was worried the statement came out wrong and might be misconstrued. “The point I was making, 4,700 students within the 40 acres is equivalent to the density of a prison. It was meant to be a comparative point, and not meant to offend anyone.”


amartin said...

No one who has anything to do with BC would tell you that middle campus has dorms on it. All the dorms, Voute, Gabelli, Rubenstein, Ignacio, are considered lower campus. Middle Campus starts with O'Neill, St. Mary's Hall etc.

Christopher said...

i agree with amartin, i was surprised to see that those dorms had been labeled as part of middle campus. regardless, those areas are still close to the other dorms and coupled with the area of the new shea field dorms i think dunn's density concern is valid.

bu is a much different school from bc and i dont think those kinds of dorms would work on bc's campus

Michael Pahre said...

@ amartin:

Actually, the entire "BC Team" has stated, in documents filed with the City of Boston, that those five dorms are part of the "Chestnut Hill Middle Campus."

If you don't believe me, just check out their DPIR Table 6-1. It's quite clear.

I didn't create these campus categories, nor did I assign buildings to them; BC did. You should voice your objections to them.

Regardless of how you personally view lower vs. middle campus -- and whether or not that is consistent with the BC administration's view -- the "prison" argument put forward by BC's Dunn is still dependent on gerrymandering the map. A picture is worth a thousand words.

amartin said...


I agree, i was very surprised by the designation in Table 6-1. I don't think the gerrymandering line would be that outrageous if it simply included the Alumni/Conte area as well. I don't think its disingenuous to include Rub/Ign/Voute/Gab as Lower Campus, but obviously the Alumni/Conte area should be included as well.

But I won't agree with you that BC doesn't have issues with density on lower campus, b/c it certainly does. BU and BC are very different. Your consideration of the numbers doesn't reflect the differnences in the campuses. Despite the boundries of the campuses, BU students have far more room to spread out, more choices for food, entertainment, etc. BC students are confined within the boundaries of the lower campus, and its overly crowded already.