Elko Urbanism: The end of an era?

And in a blink of an eye, it was all over. After a season full of so much hope, everything fell apart with remarkable speed. Less than 24 hours after a triumphant victory over Pitt, Blue Devils football coach Mike Elko stepped on a private jet headed for College Station, Texas, to sign a contract as the new Texas A&M head coach. Soon after, a cascade of Blue Devils hit the transfer portal, making it clear that the Elko Era was officially over. Those happy memories of storming the field after knocking off Clemson, getting hyped for College Gameday and savoring back-to-back bowl victories are now all things of the past.

But perhaps the most remarkable achievement of the Elko Era happened off the gridiron: Elko got Duke students to care about football. This is an impressive feat given the global nature of Duke’s student body, where most students couldn’t distinguish a touchdown from a safety before their arrival to Durham. A large part of this success can be attributed to the upgraded gameday experience, with fans treated to a lively tailgate party in Card Lot before each home game. Duke students found that what makes football special has more to do with family, friends and food than first downs.

The sun may have set on the Elko Era, but that doesn't mean his innovations should die. First and foremost, keeping the Card Lot open to student festivities would be an apt tribute to Elko’s legacy. The Card Lot, ideally situated between Wilson gym and Crowell quad, divides a heavily trafficked pedestrian route. Furthermore, Card Lot could satisfy the long-standing desire for an on-campus social venue. The expansion of the tailgate experience to all home sports games — not just men’s football — would help boost attendance for other hard-working athletic programs. Finally, transforming Card Lot into a pedestrian first, low-cost and informal community space could serve as model for other quick-fix urban innovations.

Let’s call it Elko Urbanism.

Ever since the demolition of Central Campus, student groups have lacked an on-campus venue to host events, leading many organizations to relocate gatherings off-campus. While many want to return Central Campus to its former grandeur, Duke seems to be in no rush to redevelop the barren piece of property. To fill this void, a temporary pavilion-like structure could be erected over Card Lot to host social functions. This space could be rented out to student groups through SOFC, reducing the risks associated with late-night Ubers after parties. The Card Lot pavilion has numerous advantages as a social spot over Central Campus. It’s right on West Campus, involves low capital costs to set up and leaves Central Campus open for exploring other development opportunities.

But wait, Duke surely doesn’t need another event space, right? After all, Duke Gardens is just a stone’s throw away.

The revitalized Card Lot would fulfill a different need than Duke Gardens is designed to serve. While Duke Gardens has made significant outreach efforts to Duke students, students are not the Garden’s main target audience. Don’t believe me? Then take a look at the Garden’s policies. No frisbees (or any other sports equipment), no scooters, no riding bikes, no hammocks, no alcohol, no ‘amplified music’, no entry after dusk, and no tables or chairs. This essentially eliminates all of Duke student’s favorite social activities. While these rules are meant to preserve the bucolic ambiance and natural ecosystems of the Gardens, they disqualify the Gardens as a student social space.

How about parking, what would happen when people lose their parking space?

At Duke, your parking spot says a lot about your social status. If you’re Coach K or a basketball player, you get to park in the centrally located Card Lot. If you’re on faculty, you’ll usually have a designated parking lot right next to your building, such as the Allen Lot or the Fuqua Faculty Lot. But if you’re a grad student, you’re stuck in the remote Science Drive Garage. The problem is that Card Lot is where the upper echelons of Duke society park, most notably, the Iron Dukes.

The Iron Dukes is a de facto booster club for Duke Athletics, a way of funneling wealthy alumni’s money back into Duke’s athletic success. But there’s a catch. In return for their generosity, highly philanthropic donors ($100,000+ per year for Champions Society Level) get first dibs on Men’s basketball season tickets and priority parking in the Card Lot. This poses a challenge for pre-game tailgates that can’t fit in K-Ville.

Fortunately, Duke is blessed with an abundance of parking lots. Under 0.1 miles away is the Sanford Faculty Lot. Not much further than that are the Whitford and IM Lots. In short, there are plenty of other places where the Iron Dukes can park without degrading their game day experience. Clearly, Elko’s team was able to negotiate a solution to free up Card Lot before home football games — when demand for parking is at its highest. I see no reason why this same compromise can’t be implemented more often.

Finally, the conversion of Card Lot to a student event space would align with the principles of Duke’s Master Plan. The Master Plan states, “Duke should be a walkable campus supported by an understandable circulation system.” The plan goes onto state that Duke should have a pedestrian core surrounded by circular arterial routes on the periphery, limiting the flow of through traffic. And this is largely true. For example, one can walk all the way from Edens Quad to the LSRC without ever having to cross a street. However, there is one notable intrusion into this pedestrian zone: Towerview Road.

Towerview Road slices through the heart of West Campus, forcing pedestrians to cross between the residential quads and athletic complex. However, the center portion of Towerview Road only serves one destination: Card Lot. By rethinking Card Lot as a park for people instead of a parking lot for cars, Towerview Road could dead-end at Wannamaker Drive in the south and Union Drive in the north. This would eliminate unnecessary traffic that interferes with a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare.

Space on campus is valuable, and Card Lot is just too centrally located to be occupied by cars. Turning Card Lot into a student event space could solve multiple problems at once, including a flagging on campus social life, barriers to pedestrian mobility and a lack of interest in certain Duke sports teams. Though Elko may be gone, Elko Urbanism should live on.

Aaron Siegle is a Trinity sophomore. His column typically runs on alternate Fridays.


Share and discuss “Elko Urbanism: The end of an era?” on social media.