Observations: Yesterday’s Town Hall Meeting with NIU


NIU president Baker and the mayor each spoke to the group, as did NIU vice-president Bill Nicklas and an architect who explained the process involved in the development of the Bold Futures Thesis.

In a nutshell, NIU wants to transform the thesis into a real plan for better use of the physical campus in nurturing a sense of place. It is one of several initiatives they hope will improve enrollment and retention of the hip, urban Millennial Generation.

When audience members expressed concern that the university is also pushing development plans for nearby historic neighborhoods without their input, the NIU representatives seemed genuinely surprised that they’d reached this conclusion. The NIU thesis isn’t a plan yet, they said; and besides, the focus is on the campus center.

Funny. I’d reached the same conclusion that the audience did when I attended the March 15 City of DeKalb strategic planning meeting. There, VP Nicklas shared his top budget priorities that involved the city and my notes show one of them is “Locust Street enhancements.”

So, I think maybe the NIU folks are back-pedaling a little.

However, I also believe the city has hitched its caboose to the NIU train with a little sleight-of-hand.

For one thing, the presentations were very different. NIU’s representatives employed a rich array of visual aids while outlining objectives, describing specific proposals and outlining rationales for Bold Futures. DeKalb’s Mayor Rey, on the other hand, verbally described the City Center timeline and project area boundaries, and he said the current recommendations from the project management team were “to re-imagine common ground” and “improve physical connections” to the university.

In other words, I found the NIU folks to be much more — what’s the word? Oh yeah. Transparent.

DeKalb’s almost mind-boggling vagueness over City Center made it impossible for the casual viewer to tell where NIU ends and the city begins when it comes to the desire to cater to Millennials. Coupled with NIU’s high-profile Bold Futures activities, the city’s caginess makes it easy to attribute more ideas/proposals/plans to the university than is fair.

Then if the neighbors don’t like what’s happening, who gets blamed?