Solid and productive town-gown relationships can be achieved if they are based in building community and in creating partnerships. Our professional paths came together in 2011 in Bowling Green, Ohio.
As the newly elected mayor and the newly appointed university president, we recognized that working together on important initiatives would build the university’s and the city’s futures.
Here, we outline our strategies for success.
Set a strategic agenda with buy-in from both town and gown.
We developed a visioning exercise that included university and city representatives. We created a common vision and mission, and set 12 short-term and four long-term goals.
Six years later, all the goals have either been completed or are in progress. The goals range from establishing a “one-stop shop” for information and community events to co-locating major community organizations to better marketing the community assets to the university’s staff, faculty and students of the university.
Resolve problems that need immediate attention.
In 2012, racist language appeared on the driveway of the university’s African-American basketball coach. As town leaders, we immediately set out to confront this troubling issue and to work to prevent further such incidents.
We became a part of a national movement known as “Not in Our Town.” Forums took place on campus and in the community to discuss diversity issues and to ensure that respect and dignity were expressed toward everyone. In fact, the Not in Our Town movement came to the university and city and filmed our successful grassroots effort.
This movement still continues with leadership from both the university and community, and focuses on education and acceptance daily.
Address the long-term future of the university and community.
As a result of the visioning process, it was evident that the community had an outdated land-use plan. The city initiated a new plan with university participation and input. Again, the process was important in building synergism between the university and city.
In implementing the plan, city officials asked university administrators to join them in selecting a master developer to improve the major corridor between the university and the city. This process was completed in the fall of 2017 with total cooperation between both entities.
Push mutual economic development.
Our successes with improving town-gown relations have focused on the economic development of both the university and the community. From the visioning process to the land-use plan to the selection of a master developer, our efforts have focused on creating more community and university resources for the students, faculty and staff, as well as the citizens of Bowling Green.
In 2017, the university closed its golf course, which had been located adjacent to the major interstate in the region. City and university officials are working together to bring a company to the site to provide internships, co-ops and future employment for students. This objective builds on a state-level initiative to ensure students are prepared for careers upon graduation.
Collaboration and cooperation can be achieved by building good working relationships and finding common goals that are win-wins for the university and its community. College towns have enormous potential for future economic growth if leaders find positive ways to work together.
Richard Edwards is the mayor of Bowling Green, Ohio, and former public relations executive at Bowling Green State University. Mary Ellen Mazey is president emeritus of Bowling Green State University.