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U.Va. Leads First-Ever North American ‘Town-Gown’ Survey Effort

The University of Virginia is on the leading edge of a national effort to assess how universities get along with their neighbors.

The inaugural “town-gown” survey of college-town communities across the U.S. and in Canada seeks to gauge these relationships and how best to enhance them. One goal is to compile best practices that could be used throughout North America..

“Universities and communities everywhere face similar challenges when it comes to maintaining strong relations,” said Jim Fitzgerald, president-elect of the International Town and Gown Association and associate director of U.Va.’s Community Relations Office. “This survey should help us better understand what efforts lead to improved relationships and what circumstances tend to affect these relations negatively.”

An invitation to complete the survey was shared with more than 10,000 individuals in college towns. (It’s also available online.) Fitzgerald said the organization encourages university and community leaders to participate, including faculty, staff, mayors, presidents and all stakeholders involved in campus-community relations.

“What works in Charlottesville, for example, may not work in Chicago,” Fitzgerald said. “Every college town in America may be able to learn something that would strengthen relationships with their neighbors, based on what we learn from the survey.”

He added that town-and-gown leaders are keenly interested in hearing both sides of the story – practices that improve relations and those that do just the opposite.

The survey questions focus on five themes: economic development initiatives, shared services, friction points, campus-edge development and off-campus student housing.

Results from the International Town and Gown Assessment 2013 Survey will allow the organization to advance numerous initiatives, including the identification of model practices/initiatives that may be recognized as “best in class” and the development of case studies focusing on the “hurdles and springboards” encountered in town-gown relations.

The survey will remain open through early April. Results will be shared in June.

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