November 6, 2003

The Shoreland is not worth saving

The Shoreland is a dilapidated relic, and sinking more money into this albatross would be a mistake. This dorm has to close eventually, so the administration should use the city's call for renovation as an opportunity to shut it down now, save the money, and build new housing.

A small, vocal cadre of residents have organized a Save the Shoreland committee. They strike me as being driven by the same activist impulse that leads certain people to hold meetings and print T-shirts and put up signs and send out e-mails and raffle off cakes whenever any administration decides to make any kind of change. Were it up to these Luddites, we'd still be flying in propeller-driven airplanes. If they succeed in swaying the administration, there is something seriously wrong with this school because Shoreland is a dump and needs to be decommissioned.

It is in the nature of Chicago students to complain; only in the Shoreland are their complaints fully justified. A Shorelander bounds down 6, 9, 12 flights of steps at 6 a.m. because the fire alarm has gone off for the third time this quarter, and the whole building has to be evacuated. Later that day, she waits and waits for the elevator, because one of the three is broken, only to have to cram onto it with 15 other people, all going to different floors, including the clown who insists on riding it two floors instead of taking the stairs. That night, she huddles next to the door of the Reynolds Club in driving rain trying to spot the A bus (late) or the D bus (also late). The next day she gets on the 171 bus, whose path seems to have been designed to skirt by two blocks any building to which the people on it actually have to go, only depositing them there at the end of each run. I get to the Reynolds Club faster walking than riding that bus because of its ludicrous route.

As for the building itself, the drains in the sinks and tubs are sluggish. The showers have low water pressure. There is zero correlation between the level at which one sets the radiator and the actual temperature in the room. You have to choose between sweating and dehydrating with the windows closed and the heat on, and shivering with the windows open. The less I know about the various molds, spores, and allergens dwelling in the insulation, carpets, and ceilings, the better. On any given day for a six-month period last year, half my floor had some sort of respiratory illness, and it looks like that cycle is now starting anew. None of this is anyone's fault. The staff and administrators for the Shoreland do their jobs superbly; the building is just too awful to be improved.

People remark on the alleged advantages of living in the Shoreland. They claim we are more integrated with the neighborhood (yeah, we're real tight with our neighbors), and that they are closer to shopping (untrue now that there's Bartlett) than other dorms. Finally, they talk about how the Shoreland provides a nice separation between campus and home. For most residents this is a post facto excuse they spout out of a false consciousness in which they have convinced themselves that living in the Shoreland is what they always wanted. A similar problem afflicts students that don't even live in the Shoreland. ("Yeah, I'm glad Yale rejected me, because Chicago was my first choice anyway.") Given the choice to bolt for a modern facility like Max Palevsky, or even Pierce, the vast majority of Shorelanders would take it.

In theory, living in an old building on Lake Michigan with big rooms where Al Capone and Elvis once stayed is great. In reality, which is where people live, the negative factors outweigh the positive. The administration should look past the handful of residents who want to keep the place and take the silence of the majority for a tacit acceptance of their overdue decision.