Councilor's view: Student presence could re-energize downtown
Students are an absolutely essential part of Duluth, a part of our community that should be embraced. That isn't to say there aren't very legitimate issues between some student and non-...
Students are an absolutely essential part of Duluth, a part of our community that should be embraced. That isn't to say there aren't very legitimate issues between some student and non-
student residents. But the opportunity for our community to benefit from one another hasn't nearly reached its potential. Finding new ways to welcome our university students into the Duluth community can pay dividends long into our future and take a major step in addressing some of the difficult issues that come with students.
Understanding that students are such a valuable part of Duluth, we should focus on truly integrating them into our community in healthy and impactful ways. Imagine the impacts students could have on locally owned businesses and the vibrancy students could inject into our local art and music scene if more opportunities to live in our core neighborhoods were extended to them. Some attention has been paid to this idea. A number of locations were identified by community members, in partnership with the Duluth Planning Department, to encourage as potential future student housing sites. Those locations include portions of downtown, London Road, Lincoln Park, and the central and east hillside neighborhoods. These are not the only places in Duluth appropriate for student housing, and not every student will want to live in these neighborhoods. But the benefits from well-planned, increased student integration into any of these neighborhoods have the potential to improve our city in substantial and long-lasting ways.
Currently, most options for students who want to live in multi-unit housing, designed specifically for students, exists either on one of the campuses or far over the hill. The development of higher-density, off-campus student housing, regardless of where, has benefits. It allows, for example, our universities to continue to grow while mitigating some of the pressure on single-family neighborhoods. For some students, current housing options offer exactly what they are looking for. But for others, making the choice to live with other students either on campus or in relatively isolated developments means fewer opportunities to feel connected to the Duluth community.
This lack of connection should concern us. We often bemoan the number of students who pass through Duluth, never really considering it home or making the investment in our community. Finding ways of developing housing and teaching more classes in the neighborhoods in which our local business community is active would show students an important aspect of Duluth. They would see first-hand that entrepreneurs do succeed here, that a vibrant, young, professional community exists, and that making connections during college years can lead to worthwhile careers in Duluth.
Because a diversity of student-focused housing options is rare, two lifestyles that sometimes don't mesh can be forced together for lack of options. Providing housing designed for students, in areas where a student's lifestyle would actually improve the spirit and energy of the neighborhood, can help relieve many of the issues our city currently faces. It could ultimately lead to more students choosing to live in Duluth long-term. This doesn't excuse what is sometimes simply abhorrent behavior, but it begins to address issues in a positive way.
There also are immediate economic benefits. Housing and classes in our core neighborhoods would put more students in touch with our locally owned businesses and restaurants, injecting money into those enterprises.
Finding our own success does not necessarily mean creating a "Dinkytown North." But we can learn from cities like Savannah, Ga., and Fargo, N.D. I met recently with University of Minnesota Duluth Chancellor Lynn Black. His eagerness to find new ways of strengthening the connections between UMD and the Duluth community was encouraging. The city Planning Department's willingness to begin planning for these ideas is a worthy start. These are early steps in a process that should be proactive and pursued aggressively. With the Unified Development Chapter adopted, and with new leadership at a number of our colleges and universities, now is the time to engage around this issue. Let's explore the kinds of partnerships it would take to better integrate students with our core neighborhoods, improve their connections, and relieve some pressures on traditional single family neighborhoods.
Tony Cuneo is an At Large member of the Duluth City Council and a University of Minnesota Duluth graduate.