NIU student group voices safety concerns to DeKalb officials

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DeKALB – Several actions have been taken by the city of DeKalb since staff members last met with Northern Illinois University student leaders to discuss how to improve the city’s standing with students.

The city bought a vacant property at 912 Edgebrook Drive and discussed options for the site, the first phase of the Safe Streets Initiative was passed by the City Council, and two more meetings were held by the Annie Glidden North Revitalization Task Force.

Although most of these efforts were aimed at reducing crime, student safety was the issue that remained in the forefront of student leaders’ thoughts during the first NIU-city working group of the spring semester Wednesday.

DeKalb economic development planner Jason Michnick and management analyst Raymond Munch represented the city and went over some of the efforts the city has undertaken to combat the problem.

Christine Wang, speaker of the Senate for the NIU Student Association, said part of the issue is that students don’t have the same relationship with the DeKalb Police Department as they do with NIU police.

The relationship was helped when DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery attended one of the fall work groups to explain the first phase of the Safe Streets Initiative, which would establish parking restrictions around Crane Drive and Russell Road and close Welsh Park after sunset. Munch encouraged student leaders to continue communicating with Lowery about the initiative and raise any concerns.

The second phase of the initiative, which will draw broader parking restrictions, will be discussed by the council in February, Munch said. Wang said that although the Safe Streets Initiative has resonated with a lot of students, not as many are paying attention to the Annie Glidden North plan.

“For students who aren’t Greek who live in the areas, they are less likely to understand what’s going on,” Wang said.

So far, the city has held two community meetings for input and also held a dinner at Fanatico that specifically targeted students for advice on improving the neighborhood.

A similar meeting was held last year at O’Leary’s that also doubled as an opportunity to get about 50 students downtown to see what amenities are offered.

The city had planned to budget for two student dinner events this year, but after a heated budget negotiation for fiscal 2018, only one dinner could be afforded.

Michnick said the third community meeting is going to be set for sometime in March, when students are not on spring break. He said that the Annie Glidden North task force will be splitting up into subgroups in its coming meetings to focus on specific issues affecting the area.

A secondary issue that has persisted, however, is a perception that there is not enough to do within the city to make students want to stick around, Wang said.

“It’s not even necessarily a lack of things to do. It’s a lack of knowledge of things to do,” Wang said.

Michnick and Munch also wanted student leaders to prepare for the 2020 census and make sure students are updating their address.

Since part of the city’s revenues are based on population, Michnick said, so it’s important for NIU students to update their addresses to reflect that they live in DeKalb. Although they might not take up permanent residence in the city, it’s important for students to believe that DeKalb is at least a temporary home for them, he said.

Student work group meetings typically have been held on the first Wednesday of each month classes are in session in the Campus Life Building. Munch said the student association always is welcome to show a presentation or speak during public participation of any council meeting.