Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Before I attended UCR, my companions told me the city of Riverside was just okay, but the school was great. Naturally, when starting school in the fall, there was a preconceived resentment toward the city, and I heard the same sentiment from many students at UCR. Most felt there was simply nothing to do here, and often echoed the familiar, “I will probably transfer” refrain.

Seizing Our Destiny, a community-based campaign run by local leadership that strives to better the lives of people in Riverside, has launched a city survey examining the quality of life in Riverside. When answering  the survey questions, I wondered what was really causing students to be so disengaged from the community. Were university students simply not trying hard enough to engage in the community? Or was it the city’s inability to attract students? The more I reflected, I could not help but feel that Riverside’s unyielding crime was causing the disconnect. UCPD e-mails serve as stark reminders that university students are frequent targets of crime. Consequently, the crime in Riverside has stunted its ability to become a destination city.

Riverside has many cultural attractions, farmers markets, art installations and festivals, such as the Riverside International Film Festival held in April. These sort of things should create a vibrant student presence, yet in Riverside the students seem absent. Many leave on the weekends to their hometowns or only come out at night for the routine house party. The issue is not that students are disengaged or that the city has not done anything to attract students.

The problem is the persistent crime that has made the city almost devoid of students. Studies have shown that crime has a detrimental effect on economic activity, and crime in the UCR area has increased over the past several years. Although UCR is a commuter school the campus often feels desolate on the weekends. “I would not go alone to downtown Riverside at night given the recent attacks,” said Valezka Acevedo, a first-year business economics major. Students who do not drive are wary of going out at night and those who do drive are quick to get out as fast as they can.

UCR students have good reason to distance themselves from the city. Assailants in the community have become exceedingly more daring and seem to be moving closer to campus. In March, there were a total of 14 robberies, 31 burglaries, and 37 total violent crimes in the university’s district. UCPD e-mails have become weekly notifications, and people have been attacked in places that should be safe. Students shouldn’t have to be worried about being robbed at gunpoint at a Starbucks minutes away from UCR. It is astonishing and absurd that students are being robbed right in front of a police station or a block from campus, and the recent attempted sexual assault near Bannockburn is completely unconscionable given its proximity to campus.

There is a sense that the city of Riverside is separate from UCR’s campus. Consequently, students have a bunker mentality and often do not tread far from campus. Students are not inclined to explore Riverside’s downtown area after dark because they feel like they are taking a risk. It is safer for students to remain home, which contributes to the feeling that the city is boring. Without an increased sense of safety, university students will have the same perpetual sentiment that there is nothing to do in Riverside.

Recently, UCR’s free trolley system was cut due to expense. The program was managed by TAPS (Transportation and Parking Services) and paid for by student permits and parking violations, and provided students a level of safety within the community. TAPS may still want to consider operating it, however, because UCR’s inability to control the crime around campus makes a mockery of the school. This has a long-term effect on how people perceive the school, and if not addressed, it could have affect on enrollment.

Students at UCR are able to enjoy the free RTA bus fare too, yet the city needs to be more aware of what causes the disconnect between students and the city, and implement a later-running bus system so students can enjoy the city’s attractions. UCR has even encouraged students to take public transit for their safety.

Riverside often speaks highly of its distinct historical culture and growing nightlife, yet in a city with high crime rates, it may want to take a more aggressive approach in trying to attract students. If police presence is not stopping assailants from preying on students, the best option is to provide a safe means of transportation that would encourage students to fully engage in what the city has to offer.

Although the survey asks very relevant and appealing questions, including the type of restaurants we want to see, or the compelling things students want to experience, they are overshadowed by the growing fear of crime. Riverside has to be more concerned about safety. The desire to create a more metropolitan life for Riverside residents, and improving the city’s strengths, can only occur when crime is no longer synonymous with life in Riverside. When students feel Riverside is a place they can explore with personal safety, everyone will benefit.