Letter: Let's advance NIU, neighborhood relations
To the Editor:
Summer in DeKalb is a pleasant pause in the hurried life of a college town. We hope this summer is also a moment when the city, the university and the Ellwood Neighborhood can pause to restart the conversation about our mutual destinies.
We are saddened by the noisy and unproductive events of the past few months, when Northern Illinois University officials unveiled to the public the “bold visions” of how to make NIU a more student-friendly home to 30,000 students in a town of 44,000 residents.
Calls of alarm from a few in the community have drawn attention from the possibility of productive conversations between the city, NIU and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Mistakes have been made. The bungled rollout of NIU’s “bold visions” and the city’s neglecting to include affected neighborhoods in early discussions have not signaled a promising new era of town-gown relations.
Miscommunication and missing communication have also garbled the voices of neighbors. Those who speak for the Preserve our Neighborhoods (PON) organization do not speak for the Ellwood Neighborhood Association (EHNA), and certainly do not speak for all of Ellwood’s neighbors. Many residents do not fear a grand conspiracy to destroy our neighborhood.
On the other hand, the EHNA has not been active in the discussions and other, more strident, voices have filled the void.
We believe the statements and actions by Baker and Rey are sincere attempts at creating a Communiversity where students and permanent residents want to live, work and play.
We propose the following steps to move the Communiversity concept forward:
1. The city and university should acknowledge the muddled rollout of these ideas.
2. The city should meet with the Ellwood Historic Neighborhood Association (EHNA) and create a roundtable discussion with the city, NIU, EHNA and other appropriate neighborhood associations, to begin an earnest conversation about how the city and its neighborhoods can partner with the university. The roundtable should become a permanent fixture of policymaking.
3. The university should alter its policies and procedures regarding neighborhood engagement. The default setting should be transparency, good intentions, and mutual long-term investment in features of DeKalb that will make this area a first choice for students from around the world to attend school, settle down, and help all of us build a better place to live, work and play.
We look forward to being a part of that conversation. It cannot begin too soon.
Kurt and Jeanine Thurmaier
Joe and Jean Gastiger
Ken and Jodie Burton