A Real Middletown Commons

By Michaela Miller, Class of 2015
Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dear Wesleyan students, faculty, staff, and administration,

An anonymous flier reads, “As paying students we deserve…a new modern look, consistent with the overall image of Wesleyan.” I ask, what is Centerplan’s image of Wesleyan anyways? Centerplan’s proposal to build a strip mall on Washington and Pearl streets brings up important questions about Wesleyan and Middletown culture and the relationship between the two. Mr. Landino, Centerplan’s developer, tried to sell his idea as a way to “brand” Wesleyan and “brand” Middletown with “top-notch” national chains. Landino’s idea to move our bookstore already failed because so many outraged residents showed up at last week’s forum. But I am writing to say that, even without the bookstore idea, the strip mall proposal is still our issue and still in our hands.

Wesleyan has a history of making decisions that make pure business sense without making community a priority. Joyce Topshe explained at the forum last week why the decision to sell Wesleyan’s parcel of land to Centerplan makes so much sense to her. I feel for Joyce. She is in charge of selling this property, and after four years of struggle in doing so, she finally has what seems like a perfect opportunity. But I also feel for our 80 neighbors who are hurt and outraged. While it’s a great business opportunity, it is also a great opportunity to show how little the Wesleyan administration cares about how our neighbors feel. Yes, this is a business deal, a contract between Wesleyan and Centerplan to make Wesleyan’s property one-fourth of the new Centerplan strip mall. But why should Wesleyan and Middletown act as business partners? Is Wesleyan no more than an institution and Middletown, no more than parcels of land to exchange with developers for money?

The Wesleyan faculty voted 39 to 11 to oppose commercial development on campus borders. I want to second that proposal and encourage other students to do so, too. Wesleyan and Joyce Topshe’s pending decision to sell this land to Centerplan sets a precedent. We as human beings and as an institution could take a stand to respect the community’s outcries, showing that we are not just making business decisions but human decisions. Or we could exert institutional power to do what we want, how we want.

Landino says that this mall could be a social hub, a place to gather, for Wesleyan students and Middletown to interact. But my dreams of a Washington/Pearl streets commons look quite different. Where Landino sees “quality food options from top-notch chains,” I see a community market where anyone can bring extra fruit and veggies to share with each other. No dollar bills, no contracts. I see a child picking lettuce from the soil with parents, students, and neighbors. I see people acting as people, not consumers. I see life. This idea might sound crazy in a society where land is to be bought and sold and not to be shared. But if Landino can dream big, so can I.

Miller is a member of the class of 2015.