Remarks of President William G. Durden
before the Carlisle Borough Council
September 13, 2007
When I came back to Carlisle and Dickinson College as President in 1999, I arrived determined to identify and protect Dickinson’s considerable assets and, thereby, permit us to take advantage of opportunity in the 21st century. The college is a distinctive institution in the history of not only Carlisle, but also, our nation. Our founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a patriot, wanted our “College in Carlisle (as he originally called it) to be “First in America”—to be the model for an undergraduate education most appropriate to the new democracy—the United States of America. He fulfilled his dream—and that of the nation—by working hand in hand with a resident of Carlisle, Colonel John Montgomery.
It was Colonel Montgomery who invited Dr. Rush on behalf of the community to establish an educational institution in Carlisle. These men were visionaries, they were revolutionaries and they were not only willing to risk being accused of treason to found our great nation, but they took absolute pride in the Carlisle community and particularly, its physical location and hardy, proud residents. They considered other locations for the college, including the West Shore. But it was Carlisle that held their conviction and, ultimately, their commitment.
Today we reap the benefits of their foresight and ability to make decisions even amidst uncertainty. They were willing to challenge the way things had always been, to look to the future, and to put in place what needed to be—a college on the then American frontier. They took a calculated risk on Carlisle and we are the better for it.
It is now our time, our opportunity to be visionary decision-makers and to advance an asset of this community for our own and the next generation’s appreciation. It is our time to protect our community and permit all citizens to live a high quality of life in our shared space. It is our moment to say “yes” to Carlisle.
Our asset is multi-faceted. It is our small-town civility and high quality of family life; it is a business environment that can thrive without threat; it is the very protection of our lives through our safety in walking the streets. And it should be our ability to hear each other on those streets in the normal course of interaction while breathing cleaner air.
The threat, I believe, to our becoming what we should be in this century is, quite bluntly, high speed, high-mix vehicular traffic beyond what is reasonable for a relatively small, yet vibrant community. The level of traffic is currently destructive to the quality of life both in terms of pedestrian safety and the general health of our residents. We are threatened by the potential for diseases such as asthma and related issues because of negative air quality.
I assert that we have gradually lost control of our priorities and have permitted vehicles to define our community. We are protecting metal running down the very “spine” of our downtown rather than protecting our neighbors and our visitors as human beings.
My greatest fear as the president of Dickinson and as a citizen of this borough is that if we do not soon take control of our destiny and that of our precious community, we will stumble as a desirable place of residence, visitation and business. Already I hear—and increasingly so—from prospective students and families looking at the college, that the town is simply far too noisy and the traffic far too fast for the safety they have come to expect outside of America’s urban centers. We don’t make sense to them as a community. Our gracious, elegant facades are abused by traffic, dirt and noise. This negative judgment is a direct threat to the college’s financial stability and existence and to that of many downtown businesses. It is an assault on our community pride and the potential to embrace opportunity. We are, in short, allowing ourselves in every way to be “run over.”
Please remember that these visitors, potential residents and prospective students do not have to come to Dickinson and Carlisle—just as the founders of Dickinson College did not have to build here. They have many other fine choices throughout this country where they may spend time and money—places that grasp what it takes to attract and retain satisfied, engaged citizens.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We, the people in this room and especially you, the members of Borough Council—our elected officials—can reclaim our streets so that quality of life and reasonable traffic coexist to the benefit of all. Carefully and thoughtfully executed, this is a win-win proposition.
The College has offered to put $50,000 on the table as an investment to fund a comprehensive traffic study that will assess the situation and offer corrective alternatives to current unacceptable traffic patterns and related issues. I make this offer on behalf of the college as a resident, educator and concerned citizen.
But I act not solely out of good will. This is a blunt business decision , yet one that I know will benefit every aspect of this community—from the retail stores, businesses and educational institutions to the residents who, quite simply, are trying to get safely on foot or bicycle from point A to point B. More safety means more commerce. Immediate attention to the issue of traffic is, I believe, absolutely essential for Carlisle to preserve and advance its many assets well into this century and to show that in this community—in the Borough of Carlisle—the health, safety and sustained financial viability of our citizens really matter.
As we look back and respect those 18th Century leaders who responded to the Carlisle community’s desire to have in its midst Dickinson College and, thus, to add to its future financial and cultural vitality, I urge you, as the Borough’s 21st Century leaders to follow their brave lead. I ask you to please support this traffic study that will permit the flourishing of people and institutions for our times. I implore the members of Borough Council to act positively tonight on our financial offer. Again, Dickinson’s gesture is the right offer at the right time for the right people for the right purpose. Thank you.
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