Town and Gown Committee Looking for More Members, Student Engagement a Stumbling Block for Sandy Hill Group

posted in: ASH in the News
[14-February-2013] Click here to view original article.

EMC News – A new committee aimed at bridging the gap between students and homeowners living in Sandy Hill says it needs more volunteers to make the endeavour a success.

The Town and Gown committee is a pilot project seeking to improve relationships and communication among those living and working in the neighbourhood, including the University of Ottawa, police, residents, students and landlords.

The committee meets three times a year and has two working groups, one focused on housing and another on strategic initiatives. The working groups meet every month.

So far, participation has been minimal. Christopher Collmorgen, president of Action Sandy Hill, is one of the residents who fought for the committee based on similar ones that exist in other Ontario university towns.

Collmorgen and fellow concerned residents celebrated when the city agreed to set up the pilot project, stating at the time he hoped it would help mend the divide between homeowners, landlords and students. The committee officially started in September and now halfway through its first year, he is concerned about the level of participation – specifically the lack of students sitting around the table.

“We can’t guess what students’ concerns are, they bring a perspective that we don’t know about,” Collmorgen said.

There are nine seats on the committee including Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, a representative of the student federation and a representative of the graduate student association.

Currently, the two student positions remain empty and no students have attended the meetings.

“We are only addressing what we see is the problem,” Collmorgen said. “There is a place at the table for the students and those positions are not being used, and that is hard for us to raise their concerns for them,” he said.

In the past, the area had a good neighbours committee which addressed concerns from residents about noise, garbage and other bylaw infractions. The new Town and Gown committee is meant to be a place where both parties students and homeowners can voice their concerns and issues with the neighbourhood.

Fleury said the having students participate is definitely important for the success of the project.

“We need them there,” he said. “We feel it is important to have them there to discuss the issues they have.”

Although students have yet to show up to a working group meeting, Collmorgen said participation as a whole could be better. The president questions whether the timing of the meetings is the problem. Currently, the working group meetings are held at around 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., times Collmorgen admits may make it difficult for many to attend.

“Timing is a problem,” he said. “The timing has been a matter of convenience for the people organizing it. It seems to be done in a way that reps who work a nine-to-five job could get the meeting in before the end of the day. I would like to see these meetings to be held later.”

Collmorgen will be proposing that the upcoming February meetings will be the last ones held at this time.

“I really feel a lot of the issues students have are ultimately the same issues the community has,” Collmorgen said. “And that is the purpose of the Town and Gown, this is a collective for the community and if everyone can voice their concerns, working together we can resolve those issues.”

Collmorgen also invites students from across the city and members of other associations to also come out to participate.

“There are more students living in Ottawa than just in Sandy Hill and the issues they have, or residents have, are not isolated to Sandy Hill,” Collmorgen said.

Anyone is welcome to attend the next two working group meetings. The housing working group meets at 4:30 p.m. at the Sandy Hill Community Centre on Feb.22. The strategic initiatives meeting, which will discuss upcoming events such as preparation for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day, will meet on Feb. 26 at 4 p.m. at the Sandy Hill Community Centre.