Introducing the Campus Resilience Series

by Katharyn Hurd, Associate ASLA

Students in a new course at the Stanford Educational Farm called Liberation Through Land: Organic Gardening and Racial Justice meet under the oak trees with visiting alumni. / image: L.A. Cicero via Stanford News Service

The Campus Planning & Design Professional Practice Network (PPN) is kicking off a blog and Online Learning webinar series on campus resilience. We want to hear your ideas, concerns, and strategies for approaching this broad and complex topic. Please share with us by contacting PPN Co-Chairs Laura Tenny, ASLA, and Katharyn Hurd, ASLA. We’d love to bring you all into the discussion on this important and timely topic.

Many universities have begun discussions around sustainability and creating a more resilient physical campus. Defining resilience is the first, and often most difficult, step. For many campuses, resilience is defined by developing long-term strategies to respond to climate change impacts. It also may include goals to reduce reliance on precious resources and vulnerable infrastructure. Working toward these objectives is essential to the long-term survival of an institution.

We’ve seen the catastrophic impacts of natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, mudslides, and wildfires within the past year. These events have been a jarring wake-up call for those of us working on campuses. Universities, in particular, are typically rooted in their locations for the very long term. It’s rare for a university campus to pick up and move somewhere else. Therefore, planning for both known and unknown future impacts is a critical survival strategy for any institution that intends to remain in place and operate effectively.

During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the University of Houston-Clear Lake experienced flooding, like much of the region. The intact bayou system was able to accommodate the fast-moving flood waters without much damage to buildings or infrastructure. / image: University of Houston-Clear Lake

Campuses are unique proving grounds for resilience strategies partially because of their long-term investment in their locations within their communities. Owning and maintaining their own land, buildings, and infrastructure encourages campuses to plan for resilience at the district level. This approach allows for significant efficiencies and a wide range of innovative strategies. In addition, universities often benefit from the academic work occurring on campus. With plenty of great research already underway on resilience, campuses can partner with their faculty, researchers, and students to implement pilot projects and measure their performance.

Resilience can also be defined more broadly to address economic, social, and cultural resilience. With ever decreasing public funding for education and research, some campuses are utilizing creative approaches to fund capital projects as well as long term maintenance. Adequately supporting the physical campus without overburdening students through tuition and fees is an increasing challenge.

In the context of this generation’s social justice movement, social and cultural resilience are also essential and timely considerations for campus environments. Universal design, equity, and a celebration of diversity should be genuinely and thoughtfully integrated into any built project as well as comprehensively throughout a campus. Taking a broad approach to resilience that goes beyond disaster preparedness and environmental sustainability helps professionals to create and support campuses that can be resilient to a wide range of challenges we face today and in the future.

If you have implemented resilience measures, planned for resilience, built projects that support a resilient campus, or even have a thoughtful question or idea on this topic, please share it with us. We look forward to hearing from you as we kick off this rich discussion.

Katharyn Hurd, Associate ASLA, AICP, LEED AP BD + C, is an urban designer at Page and ASLA Campus Planning & Design PPN Co-Chair.

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