Regional campus-community members gather in Ithaca

Author: 
Nancy Doolittle
Michael Lane, left, chairman of the Tompkins County Legislature, receives a plaque commemorating the county’s bicentennial from Joel Malina, vice president for university relations.

Nearly 70 government, nonprofit and university representatives from college towns around New York state, including Brockport, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Hamilton, Geneva, Albany, Cortland, Dryden and Ithaca – and from State College, Pennsylvania, and Princeton, New Jersey – met April 7 in Ithaca to discuss ways colleges and universities can collaborate on town-gown issues within their communities.

The second annual town-gown conference, sponsored by Cornell’s Office of Community Relations, covered such topics as the business incubator Rev in Ithaca, housing, school programs from kindergarten to 12th grade, and the role of the president of a college or university in fostering positive town-gown relations.

In matters of housing, participants shared common concerns on the need to revitalize downtown areas and address the shortage and pricing of housing near their institutions.

Within their communities, conference participants approached these concerns in a variety of ways, depending on their local housing markets and needs. In some places, revitalization was encouraged through employee subsidies that can be applied to the purchase of a downtown residence, while in others organizations have been formed to support renovations of older downtown housing.

Some colleges and universities have tried to address the shortage of student housing by building more on-campus residences for undergraduate students or subsidizing university housing for graduate students, faculty and staff. Others have collaborated with municipalities or other organizations to develop new affordable housing, targeted at nonstudent families.

The conference also showcased creative partnerships. Representatives from the city of Buffalo and the University at Buffalo discussed their work with AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers to help eliminate poverty in the Buffalo area and engage local citizens in community service.

Tom Schryver, from Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement; Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance; and Joanne Cornish, director of Ithaca Planning and Economic Development, discussed ways the city and Cornell have increased business opportunities in the region.

Representatives from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the city of Geneva discussed their organizations’ roles in Geneva 2020, a communitywide initiative to ensure every child enters school ready to learn, improve literacy, increase high school graduation rates, and boost college and career readiness.

“We learn a lot from our peers and colleagues that can be applied to our own town-gown relationships,” said Gary Stewart, associate vice president for community relations. “Mostly, the conference reinforces just how much can be done when campus and community leaders collaborate to address shared interests that affect us all.”

The conference kicked off with Cornell University Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina presenting Tompkins County Legislature Chairman Michael Lane with a plaque commemorating the county’s bicentennial. The plaque, in part, is inscribed: “Included in the important, daily work of staff and elected representatives have been innumerable town-gown partnerships and projects that have benefitted the common good. For these, and many other initiatives, the Cornell community is forever grateful.”