Want better town-gown relations? Start by getting involved.

The redevelopment of Williamsburg is a common theme in conversations about the city’s future. I don’t disagree that Williamsburg needs to be redeveloped, but I see redevelopment not as the next set of fancy buildings to go up but as a way to strengthen town-gown relations. Often, I see conflicts that shouldn’t be there: Citizens of Williamsburg see students as transient and disruptive, and students see neighbors as uptight and annoying. We are missing the necessary sense of belonging to one community. We should be united by common interests such as service work and by the desire to serve and better our community. Instead, I see fearful, suspicious students and residents.

There exist two entities — the city and College of William and Mary—that form a delicate balance. On the one hand, there are numerous students who provide their services for the city. On the other hand, we hear of the unrelenting noise violations and badgering cops. This should not be the case. This past week I attended a Williamsburg City Council meeting during which the council held a public forum on proposed ordinances to its 2013 Comprehensive Plan. Given all of the city code nuances already in place, I found myself taken aback at residents who opposed raising housing density due to fears of college students: The thought of irresponsible, immature young people leaving beer cans around the yard and weeks worth of trash piled along the road haunt them. The few students who spoke at the meeting reaffirmed the importance of student involvement. Those few cannot completely counteract the apathy at large.

Before any meaningful change occurs, we as students of the College must recognize ourselves as Williamsburg residents, too. Even though we only have four years here, we can still meaningfully impact our community. The council opens its arms to student input, and Mayor Haulman has stated he welcomes more active student participation. The city hosts committees and boards as opportunities for residents to get involved. Seize these opportunities. All are welcome to apply, regardless of personal politics. You have a chance to serve your fellow citizens — both students of the College and Williamsburg residents — with your creativity and ideas.

I hope to see the day when long-term residents accept students as residents, too. I long for the days ahead where students and townspeople, bound by mutual friendship and recognition, work together to bring about positive change. This is how I envision redevelopment in Williamsburg. Williamsburg ought to pride itself as a college community. This historic town has the potential to have its students’ youthful exuberance work alongside long-term residents to unite this community and make it a better place for all.

Email Benming Zhang at bzhang01@email.wm.edu.


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