Growing up in Lawrence and now serving as a city commissioner, Hugh Carter often hears about issues in Lawrence’s older neighborhoods, which now are heavily populated with students near the Kansas University campus.
Among complaints: Noisy late-night parties, alcohol and underage drinking, and other nuisances.
But after attending a recent conference in Boulder, Colo., about “town-gown” relations, he’s trying to process lots of ideas from other communities that are home to major universities and are working — or have already done lots of work — on the same issues.
“The main thing is virtually none of these issues are as unique as they may feel,” Carter said.
And they are often cyclical. Every year a new freshman class moves to Lawrence, and at some point the students may move off campus and into a neighborhood with thousands of other students living away from their parents for the first time.
Now Carter is envisioning a broader partnership between KU and the community to try to tackle issues involving students. He says KU and Lawrence can look to several other cities to see proactive examples of how they’ve approached certain issues.
City Manager David Corliss said city leaders have a good relationship and frequent meetings with KU’s leaders, but the city wants to look deeper into what other communities have done, especially on issues related to neighborhoods with a high student rental population.
“There are some more advanced programs and practices than what we have right now,” said Corliss, who also attended the Boulder conference. “We want to see if we can apply them in Lawrence.”
Carter said cities like Gainesville, Fla., and Syracuse, N.Y., are seeing results based on several years of work. Gainesville, home to the University of Florida, formed a major task force. Several policies resulted — not just related to helping enforce certain ordinances. Several educational efforts also came about.
UF now has a director of off-campus life on staff who concentrates on working with students who live off-campus and with landlords and neighbors when they have issues.
Syracuse University has an office that deals with services for off-campus and commuter students, and a liaison works with the community on neighborhood issues.
“I think it’s an expectation the community has,” said Kate Hammer, the university’s community relations associate. “There are multiple programs that we have in place and that we continue to put out and work on.”
During the past two years in Gainesville, the city and university have focused one day at the beginning of the school year on going door-to-door to provide information to off-campus student residents in certain neighborhoods to give them information about city code violations and other ordinances.
“The university is in the city. We’re both so dependent on each other, and our successes are shared and our failures are shared,” said Nora Kilroy, director of off-campus life at the University of Florida. “I think it’s very important for us to communicate with each other and collaborate to be proactive and supportive in the things that we’re trying to do to create a successful community.”
Capt. Ed Book, an operations commander at the Gainesville Police Department, said the city has also in the last three years created new ordinances regarding underage drinking in bars and noise violations. The ordinances give warnings to first-time offenders, but they target repeat offenders with stiff penalties because most people or businesses when warned are more diligent about the problem.
Book said, for example, the department only has about one-third the amount of underage drinking in bars since 2008 because bars face more severe penalties, and he hasn’t found Gainesville has had an increase in calls for house parties in neighborhoods, either.
“Only the problem bars that don’t take appropriate management practices to stop underage drinking here are penalized,” he said.
He said it’s important to target underage drinking because it can lead to other crimes, such as drunken driving and sexual assaults. Education through the university also is vital.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of underage drinking,” he said.
Corliss said the Lawrence Police Department has focused on neighborhood issues as well in recent years. The department has two neighborhood resource officers, and the city has focused on enforcing a noise ordinance and other related issues.
Jane Tuttle, KU’s assistant vice provost for student success, said KU does not have a staff member that solely focuses on off-campus student life but there have been certain efforts, such as a student-led educational campaign to provide information to students in Oread neighborhood.
“It’s good for the students to be well-informed, and it’s important to be a good neighbor,” she said.
Carter also said he would like to get more information from Fort Collins, Colo., George Washington University in Washington D.C., Lincoln, Neb., Roanoke, Va., and Berkeley, Calif.
“The results have been significant and measurable everywhere they’ve engaged in this,” Carter said. “And I think that’s a real positive to see.”