By Mayor Dayne Walling & Chancellor Ruth Person
Michigan’s colleges and universities are essential to who we are as a state. We think of ourselves as a diverse family of Wolverines, Spartans, and many others. We are known around the country and across the globe as a place with extraordinary institutions of higher education. In our local communities, Michigan State University has become synonymous with East Lansing, Wayne State University with Detroit, and the list goes on.
Looking ahead into our future, however, this international status and these important relationships can not be taken for granted.
In fact, at a time when talent, economic development, and thriving places are intertwined, it is necessary to nurture city-university partnerships so they grow and expand in innovative and remarkable ways. We believe this will require an unprecedented cooperative effort among public officials and higher education leaders. Our hope is that the dialogue started here about the exciting partnerships already underway will spark greater enthusiasm for this essential effort.
One of Flint’s anchor institutions is the University of Michigan-Flint. The campus is literally at the heart of community, where the main street and the river cross. In the past decade, the university has been a catalyst for transforming downtown into a vibrant and diverse space with new residents, facilities, restaurants and events. With more than 8,000 students and 1,000 faculty and staff, the University of Michigan-Flint fills the downtown up every day with hard-working and creative people who have made this the metro region’s fastest growing “neighborhood”.
Joining together as part of the Flint River Corridor Alliance, the City, Mott Community College, Hurley Medical Center, Kettering University and the University of Michigan-Flint are working on a broader vision of redevelopment for the greater river corridor. The corridor is redefining the region as a place of opportunity for growing businesses, eager students, and talented faculty.
Strong city-university partnerships created through service-learning, research projects and academic programs are also in place. These include important K-12 alliances such as the Genesee Early College and the Beecher Community Schools project. The “Vehicle City Voices Database” project aims to create a linguistic and oral history database that contains interviews of residents of Flint. This project will serve as a digital resource for researchers and students on the UM-Flint campus and beyond who are interested in variations in grammar, pronunciations, word use, and speaking styles of English speakers in Flint, MI. The University supported the City’s grant application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and agreed to provide in-kind support of $245,000 to the City’s effort. Currently, the University has nearly a dozen faculty and staff involved in various committees that make up the Master Planning process, serving either as residents or technical advisors to the subcommittees.
Together, we see tremendous opportunities ahead of us as the City rebounds and the university continues to grow. As we continue to seek partnerships for mutual benefit, we’ll continue using our annual “Town-Gown” gathering to facilitate the dialogue and generate new and exciting ideas.
We hope that other colleges and universities and the cities they serve will join us in this effort to build a successful future for our State. We applaud the Michigan Municipal League’s commitment to building strong Town-Gown relationships.
Dayne Walling is the Mayor of Flint, Michigan, and Ruth Person is the chancellor of University of Michigan-Flint.