As Kingston’s new mayor has familiarized with his role, town-gown relations have become a pressing issue.
Bryan Paterson said he has reached out to Queen’s administration and to student leaders since being elected in October.
“We’ve had great meetings to establish right from the outset a positive working relationship, wanting to reset things,” Paterson said.
Town-gown relations represent the relationship between the City of Kingston and the University.
Mark Gerretsen — the mayor of Kingston from 2010-14 — was said to have had issues within town-gown relations and disagreements with the University, according to Paterson.
In October 2013, during Queen’s first Homecoming weekend after a five-year ban, Gerretsen sparked controversy by sending a Tweet directed to Principal Daniel Woolf that read “I am standing at William and Aberdeen [Streets]. I have two words for you: NOT GOOD”.
In April 2013, Gerretsen and six councilors voted in support of changing electoral district boundaries, which would have excluded students from Kingston’s population count. Student and resident associations successfully appealed the new bylaw to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) that November.
“I had heard [the relations] described as somewhat frosty,” Paterson said. “There were some issues that came up that created a strain on the relationship between the City and the student population.”
Paterson said he hopes to have a fresh start with the University and ensure that student issues are heard by City Council.
“I’m hopeful that there will be good positive lines of communication,” he said. “If there’s a concern we can communicate it in a positive way right from the outset.
“I’m not going to throw anything on Twitter that is going to slam anybody — that’s just not my style,” he continued. “But you can expect from me a listening ear and an open door.”
Paterson said he wants to push for more residential development in the downtown area, create more pedestrian-friendly streets within the city and implement a youth employment strategy.
“We need to create more high-quality employment for Queen’s students interested in wanting to stay in Kingston,” he said, “and more opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurship — where projects and ideas that are being started on campus can have a link to spaces and resources in the city to get a business off the ground.”
He said he has also spoken with the AMS to add diagonal pedestrian crossing at the intersection of University Ave. and Union St.
“We want to show that we want to be a student-friendly Council,” Paterson said. “We have one of the youngest Councils the city has ever had and so I think that we are naturally positioned to relate well to the student population.”
AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner Ariel Aguilar Gonzalez said he has been in communication with Paterson since last semester — when Paterson was the city councilor for Trillium District — into when he was a candidate and now as mayor.
Gonzalez, ArtSci ’16, advocates student interests at a municipal level, to facilitate opportunities for students to volunteer in Kingston and to prepare students for moving into housing.
Gonzalez also worked with Mayor Gerretsen throughout this summer on projects such as the ReUnion Street Festival, held on a segment of Union St. on the Saturday night of Homecoming weekend. Gerretsen offered support and logistical advice, Gonzalez said.
But there were moments when they didn’t see eye to eye.
“Town-gown relations is pretty encompassing, not just with the Mayor but with Council and City staff,” Gonzalez said, “so there were moments where we really advanced forward and then there were areas when we had our disagreements, like the Ontario Municipal Board appeal.”
Gonzalez said town-gown relations have drastically improved over the last two or three City Council terms.
“The last council was the first one to implement the town-gown strategic plan, which is for the first time a gathering of all of the stakeholders to discuss,” he said.
The town-gown strategic plan was presented in Feb. 2011 and outlined goals to improve quality of life, engage students and spur economic development in Kingston, with collaboration between the City and Queen’s.
The new Council now has to maintain that momentum and establish positive relationships with the AMS, Gonzalez said.
“We are going to work more closely with City staff and speak on issues at an earlier stage and develop a more comprehensive stance and have our research behind us,” he said. “We need to continue things that were really good and the students need to engage in the process.
“Students should think of themselves as full citizens of Kingston,” he added. “If you don’t agree with something, go to the public meetings, tweet at the city or engage in any way.”
Political studies professor Jonathan Rose said students should expect to live in a safe environment that allows them to continue their learning, provides them employment opportunities and respects their rights as tenants.
From the perspective of the university, Rose said Queen’s should expect students to be respectful visitors.
“After all, they’re visitors of this city — and to abide by laws and to be respectful of permanent residents in places where those residents are minorities, so in the University District,” he said.
Rose, who has been teaching and living in Kingston since 1994, said students were irked by a few actions undertaken by Gerretsen when he was mayor, adding that there may have been some criticism aimed at Gerretsen that didn’t relate directly to his responsibilities.
He said it’s too early to see any changes implemented by Paterson, noting that “it’s important to remember that a mayor is only one person — what also matters is the Council and how favourable the Council is to student concerns and student issues.”
He said the most important value for town-gown relations is mutual respect.
“There needs to be an understanding of Queen’s students that this is not [just] their town,” Rose said. “And the citizens of Kingston need to understand that the students are an incredible resource and great asset to the city — not only financially, but the vibe that they bring to the city.”
According to Gerretsen, it’s essential that students and non-students find a way to co-exist in Kingston.
Gerretsen, who’s now running to be the federal Liberal Party candidate for Kingston and the Islands, said his relationships with students and the University had their ups and downs during his time as mayor.
“By and large, the relationships I was able to build with the AMS over the years were productive ones,” Gerretsen said. “There was always open communication. Even when we had our tough times, there was never a closed-door policy on either side.”
Gerretsen said he regrets some things he said and the way he came across in his communication with students — including the phrasing of his “NOT GOOD” Homecoming tweet to Woolf.
“[What] I would have done differently would most likely have been the manner in which I communicated what I felt, the language I used and what I said specifically.”
He said he doesn’t regret the overall message of his tweet, adding that the activities taking place in the City were inappropriate.
“The manner that I delivered it could have been done differently, and if I had an opportunity to do it again, I would do that differently,” he said.
Mayor Paterson, Gerretsen said, isn’t as hotheaded as himself.
“The leaders of the student body can expect that he’ll sit down with them and have open and honest discussions with them when they need to have those,” he said.
“He’s also an individual that will represent what he feels are the interests of the entire community, which includes students and non-students.”
— With files from Sebastian Leck
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