A neighbourhood stands divided

Our panelists debate Save Our Neighbourhood Action Group’s tactics to pressure students to respect Kingstonians

Image by: Colin Tomchick

Don Rogers

Some things don’t change. Year after year, in September, the days grow shorter. The warm summer air develops a cool edge. And Queen’s students begin arriving in town.

But other things do change. Sadly, one change is how we permanent Kingstonians view the students’ return.

For many years, we welcomed the students’ return. We viewed them as part of our community. They were responsible neighbours. Their youth and vitality added texture to our neighbourhoods.. Students shared street blocks with families, children, and seniors. We leant them our snowshovels, and watched over their houses when they were away. They baby-sat our kids.

But that was then. Now, as families and seniors are crowded out we cringe as summer winds down. We seriously question whether some students want to feel part of our community, notwithstanding Shinerama and student volunteerism.

Because of inconsiderate and worse — illegal actions of some students, we view them as outsiders, parked here temporarily to obtain a university degree. That degree is their ticket to a good job and residency in a nice neighbourhood where they can raise their family in peace, free of detriments to a quality of life that we face here.

We tried many, many years of dialogue but our quality of life continued to deteriorate.

A new, different, more assertive stance was urgently needed. So in 2008 the Save Our Neighbourhood Action Group (SONAG) was formed. This was done with regret, realizing that SONAG’s approach was unlikely to win any popularity contest.

SONAG is a pressure group. We identify and target pressure points, and apply pressure. For example, we post on our website the names of students convicted of alcohol violations, other pressure points include Queen’s recruiting and Queen’s alumni.

We hope that the student majority will apply peer pressure on that minority who selfishly give all Queen’s students and the University itself a bad name.

We appreciate that young people should have the right to enjoy the best years of their life. But every right has a corresponding limitation. The right to enjoy one’s youth begins to be limited when exercising that right diminishes the rights of others to a peaceful, liveable community.

The mechanism which defines that balance of rights is the law. So we are not against alcohol, but we have zero tolerance for breaking of liquor laws in the area by students or others. The same can be said for violation of the noise bylaws.

Some say that making mistakes is part of growing up. But our problem is that with new students arriving in the ‘hood every year, we face never-ending exposure to those mistakes.

We sometimes hear that we should simply move out of the neighbourhood. Our response? The houses near Queen’s were not originally built for, nor occupied by students, but rather by families. So it’s students who over time moved into and destabilized what was once a stable neighbourhood. We don’t expect students to move away, but we do expect then to be considerate residents.

Streets totally inhabited by students are still part of our neighbourhood. We walk our dogs, take our kids to school, or bicycle to visit friends through those streets.

The AMS ably advocates for students on city issues, such as housing, snowplowing, and recycling. But any real or imagined shortcoming in city services is no excuse for lawbreaking or uncivil behaviour.

Hopefully, SONAG will have a limited shelf life. We look forward to disbanding, once our quality of life is restored to a respectable level.

Our mission statement summarizes our plea: “We expect no more, but will accept no less, than a standard of behaviour of Queen’s students, that the families of those students would expect of residents in their neighbourhood in their home town.” Or, for that matter, that Queen’s students themselves would expect when they later settle down to raise their own family.

Surely that is reasonable.

Don Rogers is a member of SONAG Kingston

Kevin Imrie, ArtSci ’12

It’s fair to say that the Save Our Neighbourhood Action Group (SONAG) doesn’t do any favours for Kingston’s student population. As a former member of that oft maligned demographic it would be easy for me to pound out 600 or so critical words, take an awkward photo, tie a bow on this thing and call it a day but the complexities of this particular issue warrant slightly more effort than that.

SONAG Kingston does attempt to address a serious issue ­— there is a relatively small percentage of students that don’t respect their homes or their neighbours.

Unfortunately, SONAG goes about solving this problem in entirely the wrong way. Passive aggressively passing out pamphlets to students’ parents on their graduation is a needlessly confrontational and alienating policy.

To their credit, the fact that SONAG goes about their crusade — I mean campaign, the wrong way isn’t entirely their fault. One of the major drivers of this melodrama is that SONAG lacks engaged partners on this issue, both from within municipal leadership and among the Queen’s community.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t city councilors willing to make terrible but politically expedient suggestions.

Councillor Bill Glover’s editorial on his website suggesting the placing of orange stickers on the homes of “bad students” is not only laughably inappropriate but also worthy of a lawsuit from whoever still owns the rights to “The Scarlet Letter.” This approach to students is simply the most obtrusive symptom of an unhealthy attitude between students and the city. The one garbage bag policy that is sure to stink up the streets, and a general lack of student consultation on important documents such as the Town Gown Strategic Plan published over a year ago all point to a serious lack of meaningful political cooperation.

On the other side of the aisle, the student community needs to be mature enough to shoulder considerable blame for this situation.

While it’s only a small majority who consistently act in a way that is inconsiderate to the broader community and their neighbours in particular, I think it’s fair to say that a statistically significant majority of students have been active participants in at least one or two particularly disruptive “events.” It would go a long way if students admitted that they had a disproportionate impact on districts they live in and took meaningful steps to mitigate their impact.

Keeping this in mind, SONAG doesn’t make any real meaningful steps to facilitate intelligent dialogue.

The student population at large has absolutely no idea who SONAG is or what they do. The only students that engage with SONAG on a regular basis are the kids who have their misdemeanors posted on the SONAG website and the small minority of students who choose to engage themselves in municipal politics at one level or another.

I’m willing to wager that if SONAG attempted to reach out for partners on this issue they would get a hardy “hear hear” from students that have themselves been kept up all night by a rowdy neighbor blowing a whistle into a megaphone which is a personal true story.

I know I’m not the only former Queen’s student who roles their eyes when someone mentions SONAG and that isn’t fair. I can mostly recount a number of occasions where I was an inconsiderate pain in the ass to my neighbours while I was a student at Queen’s and that was, as SONAG is right to point out, a disrespectful way to treat my community.

My point, and I hope it’s a fair one, is that SONAG isn’t going to take any meaningful steps towards solving this issue by being inconsiderate pains in the ass right back.

On the day that SONAG, or a similar group, chooses to be leader in building a stronger community rather than a soap box for complaining about students you’ll have at least one alumnus happy to sign up as an inaugural member.

Kevin Imrie is a Queen’s alumnus


point/counterpoint, SONAG

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