Town & Gown: Walkable Neighborhoods on Campus

Village center image: Cynthia Girling

Village center
image: Cynthia Girling

Due to their size and relative autonomy, universities are like small cities, and like any city, they have a significant environmental footprint. They control large and permanent areas of land and inventories of buildings and are among the top employers in many cities. As such, they are major commuter destinations. If we compare the attributes of complete, walkable neighborhoods to many university campuses, they typically fail by basic metrics. In complete communities, people can: live throughout their lives, work, access a range of services, and enjoy social, cultural, educational, and recreational pursuits. Most campuses are exceptionally job-heavy but have limited residents on or near campus. On-campus housing typically includes some student dormitories, and sometimes student family housing, but staff and faculty and many students typically have to commute to campus. In terms of providing day-to-day services that everyone, including workers and students need, again they fail. Students living on campus and daytime workers often have to travel off campus for basic services and entertainment.

Town and Gown developments, or residential communities on or adjacent to campus, can help to make the university more complete as a community by adding a greater diversity of residents, as well as services and entertainment for the whole campus population. The objectives of such developments are often threefold: 1) to raise revenue to support the university enterprise, 2) to attract permanent residents to campus and thus reduce commute trips, and 3) bring services and night life to campus, thus adding more completeness and vitality.

Wesbrook Place is one such neighborhood, located adjacent to the University of British Columbia’s main campus. Wesbrook Place was intentionally designed to be a compact, complete, and walkable neighborhood. The design is also intended to strengthen the University’s identity and to improve the overall campus vitality. The first plan was adopted in 2005 and the first residents moved in by 2008. At build-out, it is projected to house 12,000 people on a 45-hectare site, and as of 2014 it was 25% complete, with an estimated population of 3,100 residents.

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Designing for Bikes at UC Davis

UC Davis bike circle at Shields Avenue and West Quad Street image: UC Davis Strategic Communications

UC Davis bike circle at Shields Avenue and West Quad Street
image: UC Davis Strategic Communications

Traveling by bicycle is the one of the easiest ways to traverse the sprawling University of California, Davis campus. Located in the Central Valley of California, the campus is topographically flat and weather is mild—perfect for bike riding. Average annual rainfall in Davis is 18 inches, therefore it is a rare day when you cannot easily get to your destination by bike. With 900 acres in the core campus and another 4,400 acres for agricultural and other natural science research fields, this growing campus with a current student population of over 33,000 is too spread out for walking alone to provide an efficient mode of transportation for most. The campus core area is generally closed to vehicular traffic, significantly enhancing bicycle safety. There are hourly bike traffic rushes during breaks between classes. During that time delivery and facilities vehicles are required to yield the right of way to thousands of cyclists or risk a ticket from the campus police.

Pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular circulation are integral components of any design at UC Davis; however, designing bicycle infrastructure is a unique and complex exercise typically driven by the Campus Planning and Landscape Architecture (CPLA) and Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS) Units on campus.

In the summer of 2014, one acre of a five-acre vehicle parking lot was reconfigured into a 600-space bike parking lot serving a gymnasium that was converted into a large lecture hall. This project was designed by CPLA and funded by TAPS. The design involved rethinking and redesigning all modes of transportation in the area to safely and efficiently accommodate the anticipated influx of cyclists. Circulation design for bike lanes, bike paths, bike circles, and bike parking throughout campus is a major component of the CPLA Unit’s workload. Typically CPLA deals with four major bike design situations on a regular basis.

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SCUP Landscape & Planning Award Winners

The University of British Columbia's pedestrian campus, SCUP Honor Award winner for Landscape Architecture--General Design image: Dean Gregory

The University of British Columbia’s pedestrian campus, SCUP Honor Award winner for Landscape Architecture–General Design
image: Dean Gregory

Congratulations to those landscape architects, teams and campuses that are winners in the 2014 Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) Campus Awards Program in the Landscape Design and Planning categories. The goal of the program, started in 2001, is to recognize excellence in higher education and its resultant physical environment. In 2013, there was a slight uptick in the number of submissions under the planning (20) and landscape (19) categories. This year, there were 22 submissions under the planning category and only 14 submissions in the landscape category.

The 2015 Call for SCUP Excellence Award Entries will open October 1, 2014. I encourage all of you to start thinking about which landscape and planning projects you’re going to submit for the 2015 program.

In the meantime, following is a list of the 2014 SCUP award winners in the four categories of Landscape and Planning.

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Animating the Campus Landscape

Pop Rocks on Koerner Plaza, the University of British Columbia image: Dean Gregory

Pop Rocks on Koerner Plaza, the University of British Columbia
image: Dean Gregory

Earlier this year, the office where I have worked for 5 years—Campus and Community Planning—was restructured to include a new division called Campus Programs and Animation. This group of people is responsible for supporting the University of British Columbia’s strategic priority of making our Vancouver campus more vibrant. My first reaction was “Hmmm—I thought we (the landscape architects) were doing that!”

We absolutely are doing that—creating the spaces and landscapes that are essential to a vibrant campus. But we don’t do it alone. Making the campus more vibrant involves leveraging public space, campus landscape and infrastructure investments with cultural and social assets to develop strong community programs and create extraordinary campus experiences. Real success requires a concerted effort by many individuals. With the goal of creating unforgettable and extraordinary campus experiences, landscape architects do create the platform and unique opportunities for meaningful intellectual, social, and cultural experiences and interactions. The design and programming contributions of other professionals, staff and the users themselves help us fulfill this goal.

Following are a few images—and a really fun video clip—showing the fruits of those efforts here at the University of British Columbia.

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Landscape Architecture on Campus

Li Ka Shing Center at Stanford by Tom Leader Studio image: Tom Leader Studio

Li Ka Shing Center at Stanford by Tom Leader Studio
image: Tom Leader Studio

This post was originally published on Land8 with the title “The Power of Landscape Architecture on the American College Campus” on April 3, 2014.

Landscape architects—and I include future ones in this group—seem obsessed with cities these days. Urban projects are all over the place at conferences and in design magazines, and even more predominate in related social media and the blogosphere, to the point that it makes me wonder if we all really just want to be urban designers. Of course there are legitimate and good reasons for this focus, such as the fact that more work is becoming available in cities as people migrate back from the suburbs, and high profile urban projects give landscape architects greater exposure on the media map.

Even so, I do worry a little that this preoccupation with big city landscapes may limit the perspective of students and young professionals to just how vast and diverse this profession really is. Although I won’t address all the possible career paths for landscape architects here, I do want to point out a specific and important segment of landscape architecture that rarely gets much attention: the campus landscape.

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UBC Campus Landscape Architect

The Main Mall at the University of British Columbia image: Dean Gregory

The Main Mall at the University of British Columbia
image: Dean Gregory

This article is republished from the February 2013 Sitelines newsletter, published by the British Columbia Society of Landscape Architects. The original version of this article can be found in the Sitelines archive.

Perhaps it is just the passing of 20 years but I don’t have much recollection of the campus where I got my degree in landscape architecture. I have happy memories of plant identification tours around the University of Guelph campus with Professor Lumis – but not any strong memories of what it looked like or felt like. This contrasts with my fond memories of the University of Toronto campus where I received my undergraduate degree – its ivy-covered buildings, the broad lawn of King’s College Circle and the quad at University College to name just a few. My recollection of the important role that the campus landscape played in creating positive and memorable experiences now helps inform my role as Campus Landscape Architect for the University of British Columbia.

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Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ image: Cathy Blake

Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
image: Cathy Blake

Sometimes it helps to step back and actually think about what we are doing – in our profession and at our schools and universities.  Landscape Forms periodically hosts landscape architects to do just that.  This year I participated in a group that went to Arizona and discussed the issues facing our campuses and their landscape future.  Sharing with peers is certainly one way to test and take stock of what we routinely do on a day to day basis.

The result of the meet-up was a White Paper on Campus Planning.  The themes addressed included the following:

  • Sustainability:  Addressing energy use, resource conservation, maintenance, and adaption of structure and spaces over time.
  • Preservation:  Renovating and repurposing existing structures and spaces including “places of memory.”
  • Growth:  Accommodating institutional growth and high-cost, space intensive research facilities.
  • Technology:  Providing infrastructure for new learning and innovation made possible by universal access.
  • Collaborative Learning:  Creating spaces that support collaboration within and between disciplines, among individuals and across diverse populations on campus

While one and a half days was not enough time for great depth in any one of these subjects, it was enough time to share different experiences and impressions about the present and ultimately the future, to agree, to disagree, and to possibly learn something new.  The world of technology is changing the way business is done so quickly, it stands to reason that our need for information exchange should try to keep up.  Maybe one way to do that is simply more “old fashioned” talking.

This and past roundtable reports can be found on the Landscape Forms website.

If you have specific problems or issues that you or your campus is struggling with, I encourage you to think about organizing other round table discussions, either in person or electronically.  I would venture to guess that if you are grasping at how to find the new paradigm, so are your peers.

by Cathy Blake, Chair of the Campus Planning and Design PPN


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