In hopes of improving quality of life in the neighborhoods around it, Loyola University Maryland has begun a series of one-on-one sessions with community leaders and residents to solicit ideas for how students and faculty members can help revitalize the nearby York Road corridor.
"Rather than have us suppose or assume what the community needs or wants, we figured we should ask them," said Terrence Sawyer, Loyola's vice president for administration.
More than 30 Loyola students, administrators and professors received training from American Friends, a consultant that has helped run community listening projects in Baltimore and Philadelphia. They held their first sessions with neighbors in February and ran another round March 10. About 35 residents of Govans and surrounding communities have attended.
"It's impressive when organizations as large as that say, 'What do you need?' instead of 'This is what you should have,' " said Maria Johnson, president of the Govanstowne Business Association. "It creates a different level of buy-in from the neighbors."
Johnson envisions Loyola assisting local schools, helping the community with comprehensive plans to attract more business and consulting with small-business owners on technology and online marketing.
"Loyola has a pretty good track record of putting its money where its mouth is," said Rachael Neill, who runs a food pantry and job-assistance service. "They really do pay attention to what we need, and I believe they'll figure out some way to work on the issues raised."
Town vs. gown controversies aren't unusual anywhere, and Loyola and its students are hardly immune to friction with nearby residents. For example, the City Council considered legislation about five years ago to increase penalties for noisy neighbors, spurred on by residents' complaints about off-campus college students in North Baltimore, including those who attend Loyola. And Loyola was locked in a decadelong fight with Woodberry residents over whether the school could cut down a swath of forest near their neighborhood for the recently opened Ridley Athletic Complex.
But neighbors said the university usually responds quickly when problems arise. Loyola has also avoided contention by operating under a long-term agreement with neighbors that dictates what the university can build and where.
Loyola wants to take it a step further, however, by becoming a problem-solver, Sawyer said. The project fits with Loyola's Jesuit service mission, but also makes business sense for a university trying to attract students to an area where crime can be a problem.
"If we let the community deteriorate, we're left with two options," Sawyer said. "One, we can build a wall around campus. Two, we can figure out how to solve problems, and that's the option we're taking."
After the third session this Wednesday at Govans Presbyterian Church, the university plans to pool the suggestions, produce reports for the neighbors who attended, and develop action plans.
Sawyer said he expects the university to act on suggestions from the sessions this year.