Binghamton’s Town-Gown Advisory Board (TGAB) met Thursday night at the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator for its last meeting of the 2018-19 academic year, where subcommittee representatives gave summaries of project proposals for the upcoming academic year and members of the Frances Beal Society spoke out during the public comment portion of the meeting, calling the proposals too University-centric.
The meeting began with a presentation by Scott Reigle, senior transportation planner for the Binghamton Metropolitan Transportation Study (BMTS), who showed the board plans for the Two Rivers Greenway, a project that creates walking and biking trails along the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers, separate from automobile traffic.
Jared Kraham, co-chair of TGAB and executive assistant to the mayor of Binghamton, said the Two Rivers Greenway project is important to town-gown relations because “vibrant” communities are walkable cities, such as Boston and New York City.
“They have river trails and waterfront-based walking trails,” Kraham said. “To get Binghamton into the community we want it to be, this is a very integral part … That’s what it takes to improve the community, [beautify] it and [create] a sense of place.”
Continuing with themes of commuting, TGAB’s Transportation and Parking subcommittee presented its two proposals for next year: installing four bicycle stations in Broome County, at the intersection of Leroy and Murray streets, the University Downtown Center, the Broome County Junction bus station and a grocery store that is currently being built at 435 State St. in Binghamton’s North Side, and improving shared Off-Campus College Transportation (OCCT) and Broome County Transit (BCT) bus stops throughout Binghamton, according to Tanya Husick, Binghamton University executive director of Transportation and Parking Services.
“We’re asking for money to build up to four additional shared bus stops,” Husick said. “What we’d be doing is putting in shelters with seats, lighting, [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant. The reason for this is to improve the overall experience for bus users, increase ridership and decrease single-occupancy [vehicle] use. It’s important for the transit-dependent to have these amenities.”
Other proposals came from the Dangerous Drinking and Underage Drinking subcommittee, Truth Pharm, University professors, the Student Housing subcommittee and the Promoting and Cultivating Positive Community Engagement subcommittee.
The Dangerous Drinking and Underage Drinking subcommittee’s project proposal focused on the risk assessment, harm reduction and education associated with alcohol abuse by creating a two-stage program that will research underage drinking and risk-taking and interview students and community members affected by it, including local residents and business owners. Truth Pharm, a local nonprofit organization, has trained overdose prevention providers and is proposing training programs for overdose response, including how to use Narcan kits and fentanyl-testing strips. BU professors from the department of social work proposed a program that would install ID scanners at local bars to deter underage students from using fraudulent identification.
The Student Housing subcommittee proposed an online module to keep University students informed of their rights as tenants and provide any information needed prior to signing leases with local landlords. The proposal includes updating the online landlord listing that would require landlords to have a certificate of compliance from Binghamton Code Enforcement in order to be included by the University.
The Promoting and Cultivating Positive Community Engagement subcommittee brought a proposal from the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) which centered around the neighborhoods north of Main Street in Binghamton. It asked for a BU graduate student to partner with a hired resident to continue improvement of the neighborhood at a grassroots level, and earn the funds necessary for supplies, after-school and summer programming and classes for long-term sustainability.
But the proposals were met with scrutiny by students of the Frances Beal Society, an organization that aims to promote progressive change on campus and in the greater Binghamton community. Taj Robinson, a junior double-majoring in sociology and Latin American and Caribbean Area studies, and Bryce Lawson, a senior majoring in business administration, spoke up about their impression of the TGAB meeting.
“A lot of these proposals are clearly very student- and University-oriented,” Robinson said. “There are more pressing things happening in the area that aren’t getting attention and the community organizations are not at these meetings. The board says it’s open for everyone, but it was difficult finding out when and where this meeting would be held, and the information just wasn’t easily accessible.”
In 2017, the Frances Beal Society protested the University’s plans to fund a blue light system in Downtown Binghamton. Robinson said after the occupation of the Couper Administration Building, members hoped TGAB would help give the Binghamton community control over allocated resources from BU.
“The reason we occupied [Couper] was because there was a lot of money the University was supposed to allocate to the community, and it just wasn’t happening,” Robinson said. “What came out of that was the Town-Gown Advisory Board, and now it’s been two years and the board hasn’t been very clear or open about what proposals were being made and why certain ones were being funded.”
Randall Edouard, co-chair of the TGAB, interim dean of students and assistant vice president for student affairs, did not respond directly to the students’ comments, but gave a statement after the meeting concluded.
“The Town-Gown Advisory Board meetings are always open to the public and we have traditionally done press releases in order to let the community know what’s going on,” Edouard said. “We welcome the community and the reason that we purposefully have community-based organizations on the board is so that they can engage with the community and bring their ideas to the board.”
Edouard said work will continue on the TGAB website so it’s used more in the future and remains up-to-date.
“We’ll always get criticized in terms of ‘We didn’t know this happened,’ or ‘We didn’t know this was going on,’ but we send out Dateline and B-Line announcements, we announce it in classes and within the committees — but sometimes people don’t see the messages or find out about it,” Edouard said. “It’s always open to the public, anybody can come and at the end of the meetings we always offer a time for public comment so we can take those into consideration.”
Maggie Cusanelli, a sophomore majoring in philosophy, politics and law, said she came to the TGAB meeting because she hoped to learn more about the process.
“I’m glad I came — I find the politics of this stuff really interesting,” Cusanelli said. “Coming to the Town-Gown, I was surprised by the lack of community members at the meeting. I think it is still early on, but hopefully they’ll update their website and get this to be more community member-based — how they wanted it to be.”