Finding solutions to Town and Gown issues

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Contrasting houses

Integrating students and student housing into the community presents a number of challenges for London.

A number of the major stakeholders have weighed in to present solutions so everyone can live side by side peaceably.

“We’re looking at a number of things, some we’ve already put into place,” London Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best says. “We’ve increased the number of on-campus police and security and we’re increasing the support system through the housing mediation service.”

DeCicco-Best discussed how difficulties with provincial jurisdiction have hindered efforts to change by-laws and zoning rules.

The city is looking to adjust the number of units in a house, the number of people in each unit and the proximity of new units to single-family homes.

“We don’t seem to be able to get the government at a higher level to make the kind of changes that we need and quickly,” DeCicco-Best says.

She added the city is working with provincial-level neighbourhood associations to lobby the province for change.

Gitta Kulczycki, vice-president of resources and operations at Western, says. “We have had requests and suggestions from various sources in the London community to expand the application of the student code of conduct off campus to include, for example, situations of alcohol abuse or as a mechanism to have students attend ‘good neighbour’ sessions. We will not do so.”

The University Students’ Council also opposes off-campus application of the code.

“Any conduct that’s done off campus that’s illegal should be treated that way,” David Simmonds, VP-university affairs for the USC, says. “Having extralegal punishment is ludicrous.”

Nancy Branscombe, Ward 6 councillor, says a voluntary code of conduct might be feasible.

“I do believe, if it’s a voluntary code, it can have some impact. But the police and the neighbours seem to think it is one way to potentially help.”

Simmonds says there are better ways to solve irritation between residents and students. He adds educating students would be more effective than policing and slapping fines on students who don’t know any better.

Simmonds feels better transit would alleviate the problem of loud students returning from the bar.

“There is no public transit system for late night, so you have no other option but to walk,” he explains. “[Students] are loud because they are human beings, who are intoxicated, heading home.”

The USC is also putting forward ideas such as landlord surveys to identify good and bad landlords and funding community socials so residents and students can meet and be more comfortable with each other.

“We’re looking to resurrect the street captain program,” Simmonds adds. “So people living on streets are identified as sources of knowledge and advocates on municipal issues.”

The London Police Service is attempting to adjust liquor laws to address student over-consumption.

“We’ve looked at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission designating certain areas as problematic with increased fines and a keg registry,” Murray Faulkner, London Police Service Chief, says.

LPS also operates Project L.E.A.R.N, an enhanced police presence in student neighbourhoods at the beginning of the year.

Kulczycki says Western helps fund the increased police presence.

“I do support Project L.E.A.R.N,” Branscombe says. “I think if you nip this in the bud that helps.”

The Town and Gown Committee has requested a report from city planning and by-law managers to investigate solutions in those areas. Their report is entitled ‘A Holistic Approach to the Student Problem.”

Branscombe says the report will look at ways to take advantage of new municipal planning powers passed last January by the provincial government and consolidating municipal by-law enforcement.

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