Town and Gown conference: Cooperation between cities and universities

James Heggen

Cooperation is key.

Michael Gartner gave the keynote address Wednesday at the 5th Annual Best Practices in Building University/City Relations Conference held this year in Ames.

The conference is put on by the International Town and Gown Association, an organization of university cities for discussing issues unique to these types of cities.

Gartner is a member of the Iowa Board of Regents and current owner of the Iowa Cubs. He was also the former editor of the Ames Tribune, among many other positions held.

Gartner’s talk focused on seven areas in which he thought relationships between cities and universities could be strengthened.

The first area was real estate. Gartner said universities and cities should partner to provide different types of buildings for students and citizens alike. He said the current “pace of capital spending” by universities is not sustainable.

He specifically mentioned opportunities to provide entertainment and recreational services in joint ventures so they could be close to campus and open to both students and citizens of the cities.

“I can’t imagine why any school would build its own recreational facility instead of doing a joint venture with the town, or vise versa,” he said.

The second point Gartner discussed was utilizing faculty at a local university, instead of hiring outside consultants to study different projects and issues. Often times the university houses faculty with expertise on the pertinent subject.

“I would think that any city council, before undertaking a project, should ask, ‘Is there anyone over at the college who knows about this, who could help, who could get involved?'” he said.

He also said he is “struck” by the amount of disinterest faculty take in their city government and said they should be encouraged to be more involved by doing such things as holding occasional joint meetings with the faculty senate and city council.

As for the students, Gartner gave ideas to ease students’ transitions into college life, such as volunteer families to serve as “substitute parents or grandparents.”

“Students are an asset to any college community, not just because they spend a lot of money on beer, but because they add a vibrancy to the place,” Gartner said. “But students need hugs as well as beer.”

He also said cities and universities must work together to tackle the drinking problem.

“Neither party can do it alone,” Gartner said.

Strong leadership is also key for good relations between universities and cities, Gartner said. Both parties, whether it be a university president or a city manager or mayor depending on the form of government, must maintain a good relationship for their communities to succeed, he said.

Cooperating on rules and ordinance for neighborhoods is also important, Gartner said.

“But if town and gown can agree on rules for occupancy, rules for biking, rules for traffic, rules for noise; the near campus neighborhoods can be the most vibrant and interesting in town,” he said.

Celebrating and showcasing diversity was another suggestion by Garnter. He suggested inviting new students to city meetings to talk about their culture and homes and why they chose the college as a way for the city and the students to get to know each other.

Finally, Gartner suggested more recognition from both the university and the city. He suggested universities give awards to citizens for making the lives of students better, or for the city to give awards to students who made a difference in the community.

He ended by telling those in the audience that universities and the cities they’re located in need each other.

“You must work together,” he said.