Working to bridge the town-gown gap

Increase in communication crucial to improving student-resident relations, according to city and university officials

AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner Libby Shaker says lifestyle differences are a source of tension between students and residents.
AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner Libby Shaker says lifestyle differences are a source of tension between students and residents.
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When retired civil engineering professor Barry Batchelor moved his family to Collingwood St. from Kingston’s suburban fringe in 1984, most of his neighbours were of the full-time variety—many of them families with young children.

“When I moved here two-thirds of the street was residential,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of change since we moved here 25 years ago.”

Batchelor said Queen’s had a total of 5,000 students when he started teaching in 1966 and doesn’t feel individual students’ behaviour has dramatically changed over the years.

“Queen’s was always a hard-drinking place, with parties and so on. We always had that reputation, but it was never that out of control.”

Batchelor said while the actions of individual students haven’t necessarily changed over the years, the significant increase in students attending Queen’s over the last two and a half decades has resulted in many people choosing to move elsewhere.

“It became intolerable.”

Batchelor said he only knows of two other houses on the lower end of Collingwood St. and stretching from Union to King streets who chose to stay in the neighbourhood.

Batchelor said he applauds the University’s decision last year to cancel its September Homecoming tradition.

“I would go to other parts of the world and whenever I would mention that I was from Queen’s, Homecoming would be the first thing that people would mention,” he said. “It was affecting the reputation of the University; it had gone too far.”

Batchelor, who retired in 1999, said he sends a letter to his student neighbours at the beginning of each year that outlines his expectations for them, emphasizing mutual respect and communication as foundations for successful cohabitation.

“I introduce myself to them beforehand. I tell them that I can be pretty fussy about things such as noise, garbage and loud behaviour,” he said. “I don’t want to hear their music at a certain time of the day.”

Batchelor said he believes establishing common ground is the only way to alleviate any potential tension.

“People have to learn to live symbiotically. As a citizen, you have responsibilities and I have responsibilities,” he said. “I don’t expect the students to be angels.”

A proposed City of Kingston bylaw will impose fines to those caught being a “public nuisance,” which include urinating in public and kicking over garbage cans—a legislation the City attests isn’t targeted directly towards students.

Bill Glover, the area councillor for Sydenham District, graduated from Queen’s in 1973. He said there’s a natural disconnect between the Kingston and Queen’s communities.

“I lived on Albert St. and no, I didn’t have much to do with the city of Kingston because all my focus was being at the University. My focus was school and all my friends and colleagues were also students,” he said. “There really isn’t too much interface between the students and the University.”

Glover said he attributes most of the complaints he receives from his constituents regarding student behaviour to their lack of experience living independently, adding that nuisance and noise complaints are the most common grievances he receives from residents.

“The nuisance bylaw might address vandalism, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Glover said he understands Homecoming’s absence won’t likely equal the end of the infamous Aberdeen St. party, but feels its cancellation sent a strong message to students wishing to participate in the unsanctioned event.

“I’m scared shitless,” he said. “One of the major complaints from the community was the apparent inability of the university to take action against students who were being very disruptive in the eyes of the community and bringing discredit to the school.”

Glover said increased communication between the city and members of the Queen’s community has led to progress in the area of town-gown relations.

“Tom Williams was only principal for 16 months. I met with Tom Williams more times during that time period than I did with Karen Hitchcock during her entire tenure.”

Glover said a Nov. 2007 city council motion to form working groups addressing issues surrounding student housing, diversity, city-student relations and fall planning played a key role in improving town-gown relations.

“Patrick [Deane] said that motion created the means so that all levels of the city and Queen’s work together and create links,” he said. “Yes, there are still going to be disagreements. … but the main thing is that there are mechanisms available so that these problems can be resolved. … That’s why town-gown isn’t at the same forefront that it was a few years ago.” Glover said he’s already noticed an improvement in town-gown relations based on the lack of response he’s received from residents regarding Frosh Week activities.

“To date, I’ve only had two complaints since Sept. 1. This time last year, I was receiving two complaints a day,” he said. “We’re definitely on an upswing.”

AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner Libby Shaker said Queen’s prides itself on its close-knit community, which is often the cause of town-gown related tensions.

“Adults living in Kingston have a different lifestyle than students. That tends to create tension.”

Shaker said only 10 per cent of Queen’s students stay in the city after they graduate.

“Some Kingston residents feel as though Queen’s students treat their city as a hotel. After four years here, they are highly educated and they take their gifts elsewhere,” she said. “We want students to see Kingston as their home, even if it’s just for four years.”

Shaker said the lack of student interaction with the city is often exaggerated.

“Students have been doing a good job volunteering in the city of Kingston. Eighty per cent of students volunteer within the city by the time they’ve graduated.”

Shaker said there’s a new deputy municipal affairs commissioner position being created this year to bring students closer to the Kingston community through the creation of more job opportunities for students, especially in the summer.

“Students who have lived in Kingston during the summer see Kingston in a different light than students who are just here for the school year. That’s been my experience,” she said. “I don’t want to force students to stay here, but I don’t want students who want to stay here for the summer to be turned away. I think that if students want to stay here for the summer, they should have the resources to do so.”

It’s complicated

The on-again, off-again relationship between Queen’s and Kingston has been a saga well-chronicled by the Journal over the years.

1952
Open house at Queen’s University,
all welcome

Students scrutinized by Kingston and area residents, an initiative run by students to emphasize their good behaviour.

1969
The University vs. the Community

In an attempt to address the conflicts between the school and community, the Journal hosts a round-table discussion between a representative of Kingston’s mayor, a Queen’s sociology professor, and a Kingston architect.

1976
Colleges “youth ghettos”

Speaker Caroline Bird delivers a lecture at Queen’s, bemoaning student neighbourhoods’ low status, and calling students “unwanted adults” who are maltreated by the community around them.

1980
Amended noise by-law bans stereos 24 hours

In a move reminiscent of the more recent nuisance bylaw, Kingston City Council unanimously approved an ammendment to ban the playing of stereos outside of student houses.

3,000 Queen’s students signed a petition protesting the amendment.

1995
Mr. Rogers worried about neighbourhood

The more things change, the more they stay the same: Don Rogers expresses his displeasure about paint in the streets after Frosh Week, student behaviour in general.

2005
Mending fences in the Ghetto

The Principal’s Task Force on Community Relations discusses its 13-point plan to improve student-community relations.

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