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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