As a senior at Northern Arizona University who has witnessed the school change over the past three years, it is important to recognize the impact these continuous modifications are having on the city of Flagstaff. I recently met with one of the city’s new city-council-elects, Jim McCarthy. As he doused his scrambled eggs in thick salt and pepper grounds, he explained to me that NAU’s impact on the city is a bit of a yin and yang, and he elaborated on his plans as a city council member throughout this next term.
“My goal is to bring more humor to city council.”
Jim and I met about a year ago while I was working at The Wildflower Bread Company here in Flagstaff. He had been one of those customers who instantly made your day brighter. He used to order hot chocolate with extra chocolate and taught me a new slang word for marijuana every time he came in to visit.
Being the good politician he is, Jim made sure that I was registered to vote earlier this year before signs began going up around town in support of his run for city council. We hadn’t had many conversations about politics before our meeting last week, but I was glad that he was able to take an hour out of his day to chat with me.
When we first began talking about Flagstaff, Jim told me that politicians reflect the people, and, due to this, people are becoming more polarized. Now that the council is no longer a conservative majority, he believes that this new team will be more progressive. With this development in mind, Jim’s hope is to get everyone to work together despite their different views.
Jim’s biggest concern about the town of Flagstaff is the lack of respect the incoming students have for their surroundings. With events such as Tequila Sunrise demonstrating dangerous behavior, it makes sense that the young adults attending Northern Arizona University have a negative connotation with many long-time residents of the city.
Jim was sure to include full details when telling me about an incident that happened on the student holiday a few years back. A few kids ran across the street, unaware that the stoplight was not in their favor, putting their lives in danger as well as creating a precarious problem for the sober drivers going about their mornings as they normally would.
In addition, the new city council member was once sent a photo by a worried citizen showing a drunk, young girl with her pants around her ankles, squatting in an alleyway in the downtown area. Jim would like to see the new and continuing NAU students be courteous to the city in which they are living in order to try and avoid these situations. He mentioned a program Adam Shimoni is getting students involved in. Jim thinks that the city would greatly benefit from student awareness and a combined effort from the community as a whole. Getting students involved in the important decisions that are being made about Flagstaff is something the city council should be focusing on.
“Freedom without responsibility is irresponsible.”
The biggest concern I, among many others have, is the issue of housing. Northern Arizona University’s current population has topped thirty thousand, and with this the university is expanding at a rate that the city of Flagstaff cannot absorb. Jim explained that over a three-year period, bringing in two thousand more people is not an issue. However, accepting this many more students every year is making housing options nearly impossible for residents in Flagstaff, especially the students. Changes need to be happening more gradually if the city’s housing needs are going to be fulfilled successfully.
While there is an obvious lack of student housing, the price of living in Flagstaff has gone through the roof. It is no longer possible to live affordably in the city. This development is worrisome because with the high demand, new housing complexes can raise monthly rent prices, knowing there will always be students willing to pay.
Although Jim agrees that Northern Arizona University does support the city financially, the high rate of admittance and the fast expansion of the mountain campus has its negative effects as well. Flagstaff is evolving and the city is currently at a crucial turning point. Either the city will thrive with its continuous intake of students and tourists, or the town will become overrun by pricey apartments that took less than six months to put up. Although our town is in need of some extra love and attention, city council members like Jim McCarthy make a successful outcome for the city possible.
Photo credit: AZ Daily Sun