After “Best College Town” poll, city leaders share positives of Kent


Randy Jayne and his daughter, Alexis Jayne, a Kent State freshman and psychology major, walk through downtown Kent on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015.

Megan Hornyak

It wasn’t too long ago that the city of Kent wouldn’t have been considered for the best college town in the state, but city leaders and the Kent community have finally received recognition.

Early last week, Kent State was voted the “Best College Town” in a poll conducted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, alongside Athens (Ohio University) and Oxford (Miami University.) The university picked up just over 25 percent of the votes, tallying 6,346 total.

Now, the town is packed with shops, dining locations and live entertainment. But before Kent’s redevelopment, many of the alleys and walkways were perceived as dangerous and would go unused. Part of improving the perception of a city is improving its walkability, a term coined to describe the ease of access between urban spaces that provide a sense of safety and inclusion.

“People would say ‘I don’t feel safe walking down there at night.’ It’s dark, and it’s perceived as a dangerous place,”said James Bowling, a city engineer and one of Kent’s leaders in perpetuating walkability in Kent.

“Pedestrian life increases place awareness and connection,” said Michael Southworth, an expert on the design of public space, the changing post-industrial city and a professor at UC Berkeley in California. “(Towns with walkability) reduce congestion, improve health, promote social interaction, improve business life through increased pedestrian activity on commercial streets near the university and improve safety through eyes-on-the-street and active streets.”

Bowling said that even though Kent was initially designed to be a walkable city since the 1800s, community members in 1997 spoke up against solving the city’s traffic problems focusing on cars on the road at the intersection of Fairchild to Crane Ave.. These community members formed a committee that would focus more on saving neighborhoods and less on encouraging the usage of cars.

“That was something that we settled on, that Kent has a uniqueness in its people that you don’t get in our region,” said city manager Dave Ruller.  “And so much of what we try to do in the downtown redevelopment was oriented to extenuating the people presence and making it a spot where people prevail, not cars.”

Walkability also has a “social value,” Southworth said, and having Kent designed to be such a walkable city has made it unique and lively.

“You create opportunities where people didn’t have those opportunities elsewhere,” Bowling said. “You make traveling as much as an event as when you get to the destination. I just think Kent itself is unique and made for walkability.”

But ultimately, what makes Kent so unique is the citizens and Kent students that live here, Bowling said, without the involvement of the community in 1997, and the students that serve as the perfect population to use these pathways, being the best college town just wouldn’t be possible.

Bowling said downtown developments that are being planned for the immediate future include a master bike path plan that will connect all elements of the city with possible construction in 2017.

According to Ruller, there are also plans for new buildings, selling the old county court building, a possible full block redevelopment where the old courthouse rests on the corner of Erie and College and attempting to put a grocery store in the downtown area.

“We’re sitting here where you can look outside and see the street and they can see inside. You walk down the street they have a lot of outdoor dining, it gives it life and vitality. The street might be walkable, but if there’s no people on it, you’re not going to wanna walk on it,” Bowling said. “Stow doesn’t have it, Hudson doesn’t have it, Akron doesn’t have it, (Kent) is a great place to be.”

Contact Megan at [email protected].