Monday, April 27, 2015

"Town and gown" coming together offers potential for Cranbrook but college sits in isolation from community

By Michael J Morris

As Jake McInnis was stepping down after 11 years as president of East Kootenay Community College, now College of the Rockies in 1993, I chatted with him about the possibility of Cranbrook becoming a college town.

At the time I was a faculty member at the college and editor of Insider, a faculty magazine. In the interests of full disclosure in writing about the college, I became the first elected faculty member of the college board of governors, and took early retirement in 2000.

The college was first established in Cranbrook in 1975 but in the beginning classes were held in various buildings mostly in the downtown area. The college web site said it operated from 17 different locations but by 1982 the Cranbrook campus was opened. It also hads a presence in other communities.

Jake arrived from Vancouver Community College as the present campus was being completed.

During our conversation, Jake, as we all called him, referring to it as an "incredible benefit" to the entire region, and that the potential was "incredible" not only for the benefit it provided to students but as an industry, providing jobs.

As one who went to university in Waterloo, Ontario just as the two universities there, University of Waterloo and Waterloo Lutheran University (now Wilfrid Laurier University) were in their formative stages, I was able to witness the beginnings of a Canadian college town. Over the years beginning about 1960, it's been most beneficial to Kitchener-Waterloo to become a college (university) town. 

In my four years in Waterloo, businesses sprung up simply to serve the university community. It has continued.

Over the years, just as I generally love downtowns, I have added campuses and college towns to my list and at the risk of angering all my British Columbia readers, my favourite campus is the University of Toronto where one can wander about, ending up at Queens Park, University Avenue and  into the heart of downtown Toronto. I spent hours exploring the "neighbourhood" when I attended U of T -- and yes I have roamed about the University of British Columbia campus too.

So I welcomed the opportunity to ask Jake about the possibility of Cranbrook as a college town.

His reply: "I actually think of the concept of Cranbrook as a college town. It is quite conceivable that it will become one - a Canadian college town." He was making the point that college towns are much more common in the United States.

"The college could eventually become the principal employer in Cranbrook. It is an ecologically, socially and economically sound industry."

Well, Jake retired, 22 years have now passed, and Cranbrook is no closer in the "college town" sense of the word to becoming one than when we had our chat for the Insider article. A college town becomes the centre - socially, economically, culturally -  with spin offs into all aspects of community life.

But, another comment Jake made has come true. "The college is an important and valuable resource throughout the region. We've won. We're on track. We look like a college. We act and behave like a college. We are known and understood as a college."

Don't get me wrong. The college contributes greatly to the economy of Cranbrook and region, as it sits in splendid isolation from the rest of the community at its local campus. And that may be just fine as far as Cranbrook goes. In large measure, the college sits on the outskirts in town, known best to those who have some direct connection to it as students, employees or those who may periodically visit for some function being held there. Jake saw so much more potential, and sadly 22 years have passed, and in many ways, COTR is still a stranger in a strange land, of, but not really an integrated part of the community in which its main campus is located.
Let me share one interesting deleopment on college towns from an article on college towns from Wikipedia:  "...notable development since the 1990s is the surge in popularity of retirees relocating to college towns. Retirees are attracted to these locations because of cultural and educational opportunities, college athletic events, good medical facilities (often at teaching hospitals affiliated with medical schools), a low cost of living, and often a pedestrian- or public transit-friendly development pattern. Several development companies now specialize in constructing retirement communities in college towns. In some cases the communities have developed formal relationships with the local institution."
Maybe, just maybe, it is time for "town and gown" to come together to maximize the potential of each to make Cranbrook a more vibrant place for everyone. 

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