Town-Gown relations slowly improve

Communication a priority between City and Queen’s officials

City councillors and Queen’s officials met Monday night to discuss Town-Gown relations.
City councillors and Queen’s officials met Monday night to discuss Town-Gown relations.
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A Monday night Town-Gown meeting at City Hall sought to increase positive communication between Queen’s and the City of Kingston.

City councillors met with Queen’s administration to discuss the changing relationship between the City and the University. It’s part of the Town-Gown Strategic Plan, an initiative started by both parties to improve the city and quality of life in Kingston.

The Strategic Plan outlines tangible objectives that are either completed or currently underway. Completed objectives include increasing noise enforcement in the student area and ensuring that students comply with property standards.

Common priorities such as improving the quality of student housing, research and transportation issues were touched on during the meeting, which took place in the Memorial Room at City Hall.

Principal Daniel Woolf, Provost Alan Harrison and other University officials, including Vice-Principal of Operations and Facilities Ann Browne and Vice-Principal of Finance Caroline Davis were present, as well as all the city councillors and Mayor Mark Gerretsen.

“Principal Woolf is trying to demonstrate to the City that the University is interested in taking Town-Gown relations very seriously,” AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner Dave Sinkinson said. Sinkinson, who was present at the meeting, said it was an important event because it shows how far Town-Gown relations have come.

He said the creation of the Town-Gown Strategic Plan in 2011 has increased the flow of communication between the two stakeholders.

“Before there was a lot of animosity, or at least a lack of communication, between the City and the University,” Sinkinson, ArtSci ’11, said. He said one of the main issues causing tension between the University and the City was the annual Homecoming weekend.

“The Town-Gown talks started between the City and the University after the really bad Aberdeen Street party in 2005,” Sinkinson said. “At that point relations went from people not talking, to being really angry and now working together to get through the rough patch.”

Sinkinson added that other contentious issues included the University’s effect on neighbourhood families, the poor quality of student housing and the renaming of the University area.

Earlier this year when Sinkinson approached Bill Glover, city councillor for the Sydenham District, about putting “University District” on the street signs surrounding the University he was met with resistance.

“[Glover’s] issue with renaming the University District revolved around the fact that it doesn’t fit with any of the City’s official naming policies,” Sinkinson said. “I went back to offer him a compromise, I said what if we called it the ‘University District in Historic Sydenham Ward,’ … he wasn’t thrilled about that either.”

The Sydenham District includes sections of student housing and the University. Glover has been the councillor for this district since 2006.

“I’m delighted, we’ve come a long way,” Glover said at the meeting.

Improvements to the student area such as the Williamsville Street Project were also briefly discussed at the meeting. The project is a year-long study conducted for the City and was originally presented in February during an open forum — it concluded that the area of Princess Street, from Division to Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard, is underutilized and requires re-development.

Sinkinson said it’s important for students to offer input on the project because with an increasing number of students enrolled at the University, more students will soon be living in this area.

“The Queen’s people indicated a great deal of interest in trying to see student housing [through],” Glover told the Journal in an interview. Another focus of the meeting was on the bleak economic climate and how the City and the University need each other to prosper financially.

“The provincial budget was certainly more austere. We fared better than others but we will not see increased funding in the near future,” Woolf said at the meeting.

“The fiscal reality has placed strain on us. I think that said, I am interested in hearing partnership opportunities with the City. Development projects, whether they are on Queen’s campus or in the city are at large, can be and often are of mutual interest to both Queen’s and the city.”

A part of these partnerships is to recognize the need to welcome and incorporate students into the Kingston community.

“We don’t want to make a city within a city,” Woolf said at the meeting. “Students need to find out what’s out there.”

Part of the long-term plan is improving housing and making students aware of the services the city provides.

These initiatives will encourage them to remain in Kingston after graduation, Gerard Hunt, chief administrative officer for the City said.

“When students come to Queen’s they are residents and we encourage them to embrace the city,” Hunt said. “If students remain after graduation it will provide a sustainable workforce for the city.”

-— With files from Katherine Fernandez-Blance and Catherine Owsik

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