Our Opinion: Strengthen town-gown relationship to help make Wilkes-Barre flourish

November 7th, 2016 10:26 am

Would it be a good idea to …

… foster the college town concept in Wilkes-Barre by establishing a large and high-profile town-gown advisory committee?

In many cities with a significant college presence, members of the community (the “town”) and certain individuals representing the campus (referred to as the “gown,” in reference to the robes typically worn at graduation ceremonies and other formal university affairs) get together routinely to talk about issues of common concern.

Often, town-gown groups pop up because of an unresolved problem, say, property damage in a neighborhood caused by “those drunken college kids.” Or aggressive parking enforcement near campus because of “whiny neighbors” who “don’t understand how much students do for this community.”

If launched locally, a permanent town-gown advisory committee could serve a dual purpose: resolving disputes, as well as promoting programs and activities that support Wilkes-Barre’s further growth as a bona fide college town.

Among the likely participants: elected officials (city council and school board members), civic and business leaders, campus administrators, area residents and, last but not least, students.

At Eastern Connecticut State University, a liberal arts school in Willimantic, Conn., it’s been nearly 25 years since campus and community members partnered to create its Town-Gown Committee, according to information on a university web page. Its members strive to enhance “the relationship between the university and the vibrant, creative and innovative community in which its students and employees live and work,” according to the site.

An article in Sunday’s edition of the Times Leader highlighted some of the strides made locally – and efforts still underway – to capitalize on the downtown presence of King’s College and Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre.

At Wilkes University, a growing emphasis in future years on research, said university President Patrick Leahy, “will influence the community in very significant ways.”

Could a robust and well-recognized town-gown group in Wilkes-Barre help to spread the word about underappreciated campus-affiliated assets such as the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, and the Sordoni Art Gallery? Might its members identify other areas for collaboration, perhaps making the area more marketable to prospective employers and enhancing the attractiveness of nearby neighborhoods?

Do you think activities such as these are worth the old college try? Or would they be redundant with what groups in the Wyoming Valley already accomplish?

Give us your feedback by sending a letter to the editor or posting comments to this editorial at timesleader.com.

Likewise, tell us your ideas for improving the community. Maybe we’ll spotlight your suggestion in a future editorial and ask readers, “Would it be a good idea to …”

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