'Collegetowns' Popping Up All Over

'Collegetowns' Popping Up All Over

Today, these towns are being built proactively, with strategic alliances in mind.

Here is an easy question to lead off with, a soft lob down the middle for University Business sluggers: What do the following cities and towns have in common: Amherst, Cambridge, Berkeley, Huntsville, Madison, Ann Arbor, Princeton, Chapel Hill, and Palo Alto?

If you don't have the answer by now, then you're not likely to recognize the new generation of "collegetowns" emerging from coast to coast. These proactive, creative partnerships are major economic and workforce development drivers, and importantly, key players in urban renaissance. In fact, American colleges and universities are now partnering with municipalities to create a new set of downtown strategic alliances, focused on enriching the educational, cultural, and civic fabric of their towns.

There was a time when host cities and towns revered colleges and universities as beacons of higher learning. Places like Cambridge with Harvard and MIT, and New Haven with Yale, boasted about their world-class destination status.

Modern collegetowns help communities aspire to make downtowns more attractive, vibrant, and livable.

Over time, however, the proliferation of tax-exempt campuses, occupying choice properties and drawing heavily on police, fire, and emergency medical services, sowed seeds of discontent in town/gown relationships. Cities and towns justifiably expected pilot payments (payment in lieu of taxes), a reasonable contribution for municipal services in lieu of tax revenues. Simultaneously, colleges and universities pointed to special civic commitments, scholarships, public school collaboration, and job creation.

What came next was a spate of taxation cases that called for full and fair evaluation and eventually led to the taxpayers' revolt of propositions 13 in California and 2 ? in Massachusetts. Sadly, cities and colleges soon turned to litigation and legislation to settle their differences-a far cry from the collegial and bucolic settings of typical collegetowns. Over the last decade, new municipal officials and campus leaders have started fresh conversations dedicated to mutual growth.

In Boston, higher ed-city hall relationships hit a new low when student drinking and rowdiness after a Red Sox game led to the death of a college student at the hands of a Boston Police Riot Squad in 2004. Today, these adversarial town/gown relations have changed for the better with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Northeastern University President Richard Freeland penning an advertorial in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Town-Gown Relationships: A New Model Emerges." In that piece, Menino and Freeland envision a new age of higher education municipal partnerships aimed at promoting Greater Boston's undisputed global marker as the Athens of higher education.

In 2007, Binghamton University (N.Y.) will partner with nearby Broome Community College to establish an Education and Community Development Center. As currently envisioned, the new center will offer needed programs such as a master's degree in Public Administration and a master's in Social Work, helping area residents further their education while contributing to the revitalization of downtown Binghamton. "Binghamton University is at the center of much of the change we see taking place in our community," says President Lois B. DeFleur. "Our vitality is dependent on the vitality of the city and region."

Envision, if you will, the historic whaling seaport of New London, Conn., a rising collegetown anchored by the prospect of co-locating a U.S. Coast Guard museum and archives with a professional and graduate school.

Significantly, this vision also conceives of an adjacent destination resort, quality hotel, and conference center, along with new housing, upscale retail, and other complementary community uses. An interesting note is that the smallest institution in town, Mitchell College, played a key leadership role in collaborating with the New London Development Corporation, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and the City of New London. Mitchell President Mary Ellen Jukoski, Academy Superintendent Rear Admiral James Van Sice, and NLDC President Michel Joplin are all involved in transforming this historic whaling village into a new seaport collegetown on the Connecticut shore.

Town/gown relationships can move from "stress" to "success."

In the city where what happens there, stays there-"viva Las Vegas"-the Community College of Southern Nevada is collaborating with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Nevada State College; and the city to develop seamless lifelong learning pathways in places like Cheyenne, West Charleston, and Henderson. CCSN President Richard Carpenter notes with pride that these partnerships provide a critical workforce development capacity to support the indigenous industries of tourism, gaming, and hospitality management.

Recognizing that collegetowns must offer affordable higher education and housing, and quality healthcare, Warren County Community College (N.J.) is collaborating with the Hackettstown Regional Medical Center to build a new state-of-the-art health science education center on the campus of the hospital-a campus capital outlay initiative aimed at making Warren and Hackettstown great places to visit, play, stay, and learn.

Finally, take a look at Trinity College in Hartford: Its collegetown initiative has achieved national recognition. With the completion of its Learning Corridor model, the institution helped displace crack houses with new public schools, affordable housing, a community-based public health organization, and public television and radio. Former Trinity President Evan Dobelle reflects on how the Learning Corridor has had a transformative impact on the surrounding community, while offering wonderful service learning, teaching, and research opportunities for Trinity students, faculty, and staff.

Michael Rudden, a senior city planner at the architectural firm Saratoga Associates, believes town/gown relationships can move from "stress" to "success" when both the community and institutions develop and achieve goals collaboratively. Early on in the planning process, Saratoga assisted the City of Fitchburg, Mass., and Fitchburg State College in developing a "Main Street revitalization" plan. Later, when planning for a new recreation-fitness center, Fitchburg State College chose a blighted downtown neighborhood at the edge of the main campus. This coincided with the mutual goal of revitalizing the college and the downtown by physically, economically, and culturally linking the campus with the city.

So, what do UB readers need to know about the characteristics of contemporary collegetowns that will make these locales so special and noteworthy?

Modern collegetowns often have strategic downtown locations away from the main campus-in industrial, science, and technology parks, and at schools and neighborhood health centers.

Collegetowns co-locate bookstores and continuing education centers alongside cybercafes, gourmet food courts, and fitness, wellness, and edutainment centers.

Modern collegetowns reduce the rate of public school attrition, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, and alcohol abuse by helping to create community aspiration and civic commitment to make downtowns more attractive, vibrant, and, most importantly, more livable.

Contemporary collegetowns co-locate intermodal transportation centers for convenient transport between their downtown learning centers and the main campuses.

Collegetowns create new fine, visual, and performing arts venues and the kind of cultural diversity that beckons both tourists and neighbors.

In publications as diverse as Forbes, AARP The Magazine, Living Southern Style, and Outdoors Magazine, we see common themes of promoting collegetowns as great places to settle. After all, many baby boomers are now empty nesters looking for upscale townhouses on the edge of a growing campus and just down the street from a growing medical center.

What is really intriguing about nascent collegetown trends is the deployment of a campus-style presence as a critical tool for urban redevelopment and civic enrichment. In his seminal urban planning treatise The City in History, Lewis Mumford reminds us that a city's history will be written not in the fa?ades of great skyscrapers, but in the education and culture of its people. Today and tomorrow, UB readers may find a new collegetown springing up near their own schools and hometowns.

James Martin is a professor at Mount Ida College (Mass.). James E. Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance. Their book is Presidential Transition in Higher Education: Managing Leadership Change (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).


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