Photo by Emily Schoone
Roger Hancock, 65, has lived at 165 Mandy Drive for about two decades now. His home — a small, one-story duplex with a rocky, sloped yard — doesn’t change much from day to day. On any given afternoon, Hancock, a self-described Georgia “thoroughbred” from Commerce, can be found sitting in a chair near his doorstep, enjoying the warm weather or watching his grandchildren play nearby.
Megan Spence and Courtney Nease moved into 167 Mandy Drive — the house directly next to Hancock’s — with their two other roommates back in August. Spence and Nease, juniors at the University of Georgia who have known each other since elementary school, chose the house because it was much closer to campus than the apartment they lived in last year.
Their house is separated from Hancock’s by little more than the tall, partial wall of shrubs and trees that stands between the two homes. Despite the fact that the two houses are so close to one another, the lives of their occupants couldn’t be more different.
Spence says she felt uneasy when she and her roommates first moved into the house, mostly due to the simple fact that, in general, college kids tend to live next to other college kids.
“It was kind of creepy at first,” Spence, a mechanical engineering major, says. “And I was telling my mom, ‘There are Clarke County people like right next to us.’ It’s kind of leery ’cause [my parents] are expecting it to be like all college kids.”
It wasn’t as if Hancock’s house was the only thing contributing to Spence and Nease’s unfamiliarity and uneasiness, though. On Mandy Drive, their house sits at a sort of dividing line between students and non-students. On one side, Hancock’s side, there are almost exclusively houses occupied by residents who have lived there for years — sometimes decades. Meanwhile, UGA students lease most of the homes on the other side of Spence and Nease’s house.
This initial apprehension was augmented by the fact that Spence’s basketball goal was stolen as she was moving in over the summer. It wasn’t as if this crime couldn’t have happened in an all-student neighborhood, but it certainly served to increase Spence’s fear of her unfamiliar surroundings. As the semester went on, and Spence and Nease began to realize they wouldn’t even be communicating with their neighbors — let alone getting into any sort of conflict with them — their concerns were mostly put to rest.
“I mean at first I was like really uncomfortable,” Nease, a pre-nursing student, says. “And we always made sure to lock the doors. And we have an alarm that we used to always set whenever we left.”
Now, however, Spence and Nease say they feel safe in their neighborhood, and that they probably cause more trouble for Hancock and their surrounding neighbors than the other way around. When thAey blare music on weekends, or cause a lot of noise after a night out, they’ll often wonder whether or not they’re keeping Hancock and his wife up next door.
“That was a nice house they used to have right there, but they tore it down,” Hancock says.
“Sometimes our roommates will come home from downtown and shoot bottle rockets off,” Spence says. “I mean they’re right next to us, so unless the trees block that much [they’ll hear it].”
Either the trees really are that powerful of a barrier, or Hancock is just really polite. He says he never hears any loud noise from Spence and Nease’s house, and that living near college kids doesn’t bother him at all. However, he can easily recall his frustrations from when the houses were first built.
“They started all the construction — beating and hammering. Was it annoying? Oh my goodness, what are you talking about?” he says, laughing.
It wasn’t only the construction itself that bothered Hancock; he also just didn’t understand the point of it all. His neighborhood was vibrant before the college kids moved in — he remembers a beauty parlor in a house across the street, and even some nice apartments down the road that were later knocked down to build The Verandas, another student housing development. At this time, there was a beautiful, well-kept house next door, where Spence and Nease’s house is today.
“That was a nice house they used to have right there, but they tore it down,” Hancock says. “I never would’ve thought [the owners] would sell it.”
Hancock does believe his neighborhood was livelier before the new developments began, but he doesn’t resent students for moving in, as he acknowledges that they have to live somewhere nearby. Hancock’s point reflects a larger trend, as his neighborhood is just one of dozens in the area that have experienced the same transformation in the past two decades.
Chicopee-Dudley, a neighborhood of Athens most narrowly defined as the area near the North Oconee River and between Oconee and Third streets, has experienced dramatic change in recent years. Although Hancock’s house technically lies outside of this region, Mandy Drive and many surrounding streets and neighborhoods have a lot in common with Chicopee-Dudley.
Both areas were historically farming communities focused on the growing and development of textiles that would then be processed at the Chicopee Mill. Both areas have also seen a recent infiltration of developments focused on student housing. Students are moving into houses on First, Third and Peter streets, student-occupied neighborhoods such as The Retreat, The Verandas and Madison Heights have popped up near North Avenue and massive student apartments such as 909 Broad and The Standard tower over the North Oconee River.
“Who would’ve thought it would be like this? I never dreamed it would’ve become like it is here now,” Hancock says.
Spence and Nease recognize the troubles that non-students may have in dealing with students moving into their neighborhoods. They’re both young, white, female college students from an area of Georgia significantly different from where Hancock, an older black man, has lived most of his life. For neighbors with such different backgrounds, handling disagreements can be difficult — sometimes it’s hard to know what to say and how to say it.
“[Our neighbors] probably don’t want to scare us coming over here either,” Spence says. “’Cause if I was an adult male, and I knew four girls lived in the house, coming over probably doesn’t feel like the right thing [to do].”
Nease says she thinks college students have an easier time addressing problems with their peers, because most of them experience so many of the same things. She recalls how different her and Spence’s living situation was last year, when they lived in a student-focused apartment complex.
At worst, Hancock may ask his neighbors to move their cars up the road a little — his wife is in a wheelchair and needs to enter the yard at a specific place.
“We lived at The Connection, and the people below us hated us. They came up and talked to us several times about being too loud,” Nease says.
Whether it’s Hancock walking down to the bus stop to pick up his grandchildren in the afternoon, or Spence and Nease driving home from work or class in the evening, it seems as though the two houses have found a way to coexist. At worst, Hancock may ask his neighbors to move their cars up the road a little — his wife is in a wheelchair and needs to enter the yard at a specific place. Spence and Nease even joke that the pit bull chained across the street bothers them more than any of their non-student neighbors.
But Spence and Nease do remember a time, shortly after they first moved in, when Hancock did complain to them, saying he was bothered by the height of the shrubbery between the two homes. Hancock remembers how his old neighbors — the ones before the developments began — used to keep the border between the houses at waist level. Although the two houses have adjusted to their surrounding residents, Hancock recalls a time when his home didn’t feel as separated from the house next door.
Originally published in The Red & Black