London plans to avoid ghetto

City council hopes to foster great neighbourhoods, not target students

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Student housing

Justin Wu

I DON'T THINK WE'LL NEED ROBIN LEACH FOR THIS APPRAISAL. The Montessori School, left, shows up a trashy student house next door. The city of London drafted Closing the Gap, a plan to improve relations between student renters and permanent residents of the city. The plan addresses problems that roasted marshmallows, fireside chats and Kum Bah Yah simply can't.

To quell fears of a potential “student ghetto” and improve town-and-gown relations, the City of London recently released an action plan for improving student-filled neighbourhoods.

Concerns have been raised in neighbourhoods around Western and Fanshawe College due to property neglect, unsightly new buildings and mutual disrespect between homeowners and students.

London city council’s plan, Closing the Gap: New Partnerships for Great Neighbourhoods Surrounding Our University and Colleges, was unveiled on Feb. 25.

The plan aims to foster a sense of great neighbourhoods without solely targeting student residents, according to John Fleming, manager of land use planning implementation for London city council.

“Unlike many strategies that are out there in other municipalities, this report in no way says students are a problem and that we need to remove them from our neighbourhoods,” Fleming explained.

Closing the Gap highlights 10 initiatives to improve the neighbourhoods surrounding Western and Fanshawe, including improving housing safety and affordability, offering a higher level of public service to the community, improving infrastructure and providing new housing alternatives. Fleming said council is also discussing a rental housing licensing by-law.

He explained the growing concerns that led to the plan.

“We could move towards student ghetto scenarios of other municipalities, like Kingston,” he said.

“An over-dense population of students on small lots, massive additions out of character with neighbourhoods, complete streetscapes with ‘for rent’ signs ... we’d see a loss of connection to the neighbourhoods.”

University Students’ Council VP-university affairs, David Simmonds, said the plan is a good first step as it portrays a culture of openness to students.

Due to pressure from the USC, the city has changed its previously negative tone on town-and-gown relations, Simmonds noted: “[The new plan] framed students as citizens.”

Simmonds added the USC is cautiously optimistic about potential licensing.

“It could create a tiered system within the community,” he explained. “Nuisance bylaws need consistency if used.”

Fleming stressed the potential licensing would be across the board and not aimed at student housing.

Such licensing would allow authorities to enter a premise to inspect for building code violations.

“I would hope [students] would recognize that what we’re doing is from a safety perspective,” Fleming said.

Fanshawe Student Union President Travis Mazereeuw, does not have any large issues with the plan, but noted it will ultimately come down to what the city feels is most beneficial to its population.

He also addressed the attention given to Fanshawe students over the past year¬, as several large parties in neighbourhoods surrounding the college drew police intervention.

“You’re bound to have some parties,” Mazereeuw said. “All in all, Fanshawe students are well-behaved.”

The USC and the City of London are seeking feedback on Closing the Gap in upcoming town halls.

For more information and a copy of the full draft plan, visit: www.london.ca/speakup and click on Student Housing Strategy.

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