Thursday, August 23, 2007

The University and The Road Less Travelled.

This is just like the scene in that movie - you know the one - where the protagonist is standing at a fork in the road, contemplating which direction they will head. And you just know that this is a make-or-break moment - one way will have a great outcome, and the other way - catastrophe. It's a cheesy metaphore for an up-coming life decision, but appropriate at that.

The decision we are gawking at now here in Windsor is by no means an easy one. Never in my lifetime has an opportunity of this magnitude been on the table, and I've been living through the border crossing debacle (because none of those "options" will really affect anything - we're still going to get stuck with 10,000 trucks a day driving through Windsor, it's been distilled down to a fight over their elevation). This decision will determine whether the City of Windsor changes its economic fortunes and prospers, or continues to wither on the vine.

Back to our protagonists decision. The route on the right is the visibly easier one. This is the road that most of the members of the University of Windsor's Board of Governors will opt to take. Less headaches, land expropriation and permit applications would be necessary in building a prestigious Centre For Engineering Innovation out on a greenfield sie on the periphery of our city. And this is clearly where this route would take us, because if was just up to the University, it is probably the cheapest one. However, the City must play an active role in this decision and take into consideration what the costs would be if the University chose this route. Not only would the city be on the hook for numerous infrastructure upgrades, highway widening and generations of increased vehicular traffic and smog, but it would also be sacrificing an investment in the downtown that could be the difference between revitalization and rigor mortis. Hense, our protagonist is counseled to start thinking about the road less traveled - the one on the left.

This road is a little neglected and overgrown. It seems as though it has been forgotten about for quite some time. Yet, there is beauty down this road. Sure, nature has tried to reclaim it - the asphalt is crumbling and the weeds are poking through - but it still has a certain allure to it. This is the road leading to renovation, urban renewal and adaptation. This is a road that will utilize resources that we have already invested in and paid for. This option would add to the cultural and creative renaissance that downtown Windsor needs.

Simon Fraser University has done it with their Morris J Wosk Centre For Dialogue in downtown Vancouver, and that has led to the revitalization of the Downtown Eastside. George Brown College moved its multidisciplinary performing arts program into downtown Toronto in 2005, accomodating both students and Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre Company. Oil-rich Alberta is getting into the game as well, making a conditional offer to purchase the Hudson's Bay building in Edmonton's downtown.

When the University of Calgary embarked on its so-called “urban campus initiative” two years ago, the institution’s development officials were thinking mainly about building a downtown campus – a standard-issue, bricks-and-mortar cluster based in Calgary’s down-and-out East Village area, not far from the business core. No one anticipated the way the project has evolved, admits Roman Cooney, University of Calgary’s vice-president, external relations. But even before the university and its partners on the project (Athabasca University, Bow Valley College, Chinook Learning Services and the Calgary Board of Education, among others) begin building the $300-million “learning precinct” on city-owned land, students and faculty involved with the urban campus initiative have started connecting with a part of Calgary that has missed out on much of the prosperity of the oil boom. “It came from what students were telling us,” says Mr. Cooney. “They wanted real life experience and to be connected with the community before they graduated.”

Just his past February, The University of Waterloo announced that a satellite of McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine will be located on the University of Waterloo Downtown Kitchener Health Sciences Campus. Anchored by the new UW School of Pharmacy, the Health Sciences Campus is the catalyst behind the announcement of a satellite medical school. As University of Waterloo president David Johnstonstated, "This is a day for the history books of Waterloo Region, McMaster University and the University of Waterloo. The synergies are wonderful, with the satellite of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine co-locating with our School of Pharmacy on the Downtown Kitchener Health Sciences Campus. We are so fortunate that the City of Kitchener has been the catalyst in developing the Health Sciences Campus, providing funding of $30 million to the School of Pharmacy, plus a gift of land at King and Victoria Streets."

"UW's goal in all of our health-related activities is to make a difference in the lives of people in this community; not to conduct research in isolation, but to translate our expertise into things that improve the quality of life and the quality of health care for our neighbours, our families, our friends," Johnston added."This is a day for the history books of Waterloo Region, McMaster University and the University of Waterloo. The synergies are wonderful, with the satellite of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine co-locating with our School of Pharmacy on the Downtown Kitchener Health Sciences Campus. We are so fortunate that the City of Kitchener has been the catalyst in developing the Health Sciences Campus, providing funding of $30 million to the School of Pharmacy, plus a gift of land at King and Victoria Streets. UW's goal in all of our health-related activities is to make a difference in the lives of people in this community; not to conduct research in isolation, but to translate our expertise into things that improve the quality of life and the quality of health care for our neighbours, our families, our friends," Johnston added.

These projects are part of a growing trend among Canada’s postsecondary institutions. Universities and colleges are increasingly forging partnerships with municipalities and a wide array of local organizations to create downtown campuses and programs that not only fuel urban redevelopment but also create important social connections between students, faculty and the communities that surround them. Results that the City Of Windsor desperately needs to recognise as being necessary for us to survive this latest economic downturn we are experiencing.

Let's hope that Mayor Francis is successful in thwarting another attempt to subsidize (to the tune of $40,000,000) urban sprawl and keeps these 1,600 - 2,000 engineering students living, working and playing in downtown Windsor. An email or phone call from you wouldn't hurt, either.

2 comments:

Topher Holt said...

Already the support for greenfield development, and all the suburban ills that come along with it, has started. This letter is from todays Windsor Star...

Location important for new U of W development
Thursday, August 23, 2007

Kudos to all involved in obtaining funding for the development of the U of W engineering department.

Location, location, location.

It is hoped that the powers that be have the foresight to build this facility in wide open spaces.

Downtown or the U of W campus are obviously landlocked and expansion is limited.

There is only one obvious location in this city where it will become a win-win. The airport property is centrally located, expendable and it will fit nicely with the city's centralized transportation hub vision.

Let's not spend millions of dollars on landlocked buildings. Why did we not centralize our hospital system?

Instead of having an expandable, state-of-the-art medical campus we are left with already outdated hospitals whose needs will need to be addressed again in 25 years.

Let's envision the future for once and let politics take a back seat to common sense.

BILL LARSH

Windsor


Do these people know what they're asking for????

Anonymous said...

Lots of land next to the Arena. Lets put it out there. No wait... by the race track....no even better.... the 401 and Manning. AAAAAHHHHH Windsor. You just give me more reason to leave every day