Town-gown: What will the relationship between Bend and the new OSU-Cascades look like?
Bendites are worried about Oregon State University-Cascades’ expansion. They are afraid of the change coming when a 5,000 student campus sits in the middle of the west side, according to Jodie Barram, Bend city councilor and mayor pro tem.
“People hear horror stories about living in a neighborhood with party houses and loud students,” Barram said. “They’re fearful it will change their quality of life.”
This is why Bend management reached out to the International Town-Gown Association. Beth Bagwell, executive director of the ITGA, connected Bend with California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, a town and university that had to build a relationship in an environment similar to Bend’s.
“They were able to do some hand holding,” Bagwell said. “We’ve got members all across the country dealing with similar issues.”
These issues fall under what the ITGA has dubbed the “town-gown relationship,” regarding the town and the graduation gown symbolizing universities. The ITGA works to help universities and cities across America build these relationships.
The ITGA, a relatively new organization based in Clemson, South Carolina, has its roots in an event happening in Clemson in the 1990s that has become almost legendary.
“The president of Clemson University and the mayor of Clemson met on a park bench and talked about the relationship between the school and the town,” Bagwell said. “Two decades or so later, the ITGA was formed as a non-profit.”
Working with ITGA, OSU-Cascades identified thirty town-gown pairs across the nation and ranked them in terms of how similar they were to the Bend-OSU relationship, according to Christine Coffin, director of communications and outreach with OSU-Cascades.
“There’s no town-gown relationship in the country that exactly represents what we hope to create here,” Coffin said, “but we can learn best practices from each of those town-gown pairs so we can create something that works for the university, the city of Bend and the community here.”
The town-gown relationship in Bend
In January, the city of Bend and OSU-Cascades took a step in building a healthy relationship when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The MOU is an “expression by both parties of their intent to work together to make this possible,” according to Becky Johnson, vice-president of OSU-Cascades.
The MOU is not as official as a contract, according to Barram: It’s more of a “guiding document.”
“The intent of having an MOU is to be clear with each other, as entities, about who is responsible for what,” Barram said.
OSU-Cascades is responsible for “a lot,” according to Barram–submitting plans to the city, following codes and submitting a schedule–but the city will do what they can to help OSU-Cascades navigate the process.
To that end, the city of Bend will be appointing another project manager to work alongside OSU-Cascades’ appointed project manager on the project. This is all part of the city and university’s desire to “cooperate in good faith,” as stated in the MOU.
This is promising for Bend and the university, according to Johnson, because not all town-gown relationships are good.
For instance, Corvallis’ relationship with Oregon State University in the last five years has been strained, according to Johnson. Because of major growth–there are now more than 24,600 students going to OSU, according to OSU public relations–student housing has spread even more into family neighborhoods, and rentals that once housed one family are now being rented to students. Since six members of a family use less cars than six independent students, parking is becoming an issue, Johnson said.
That is why OSU-Cascades needs to work with Bend: They have the power to work off of university property where OSU-Cascades can do little to nothing.
Fear of the future
The two biggest issues coming up right now in Bend are transportation and neighborhood livability, according to Barram. Residents fear that college parties and other disruptions will be the new norm.
“OSU-Cascades has been very receptive,” Barram said. “They’re throwing everything on the table.”
A series of community meetings have helped OSU-Cascades and the city of Bend get a sense of what the community–especially that immediately surrounding the site for OSU-Cascades–expects and desires. These sessions are generally most helpful when community members do more than complain and fear the future, according to Barram.
“Some of the most productive neighborhood meetings are ones where they say ‘here’s what we would like to see and here’s a policy that worked at another university,’” Barram said.
In all this, OSU-Cascades is not looking to mold Bend in its image or to create another OSU Corvallis in Bend, but to build something unique that fits and enriches, according to Barram.
“They want the campus to really be a reflection of the community,” Barram said. “They’re being sensitive to that; that’s why they’re looking for community involvement.”
Barram believes that sometimes the threat of change can be more frightening than the change itself, so part of the job she’s doing is calming fears.
“It’s going to be a gradual transition to get up to the goal of 5,000 students,” Barram said, “but people are afraid it’s going to happen overnight. They say ‘Oh my God, there’s going to be 5,000 students and a giant building here and everything’s going to change. We have an opportunity to say ‘take a deep breath, it’s going to take a while.’”