Inclusivity and the Design Process in the American College Town

by Jessica Fernandez, Ph.D, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP ND

Town and Gown Collaboration
Town and Gown Collaboration / illustration: Brett Ryder, modified

“The clear evidence is that…we can organize our institutions to serve both local and national needs in a more coherent effective way. We can and must do better.”
Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities, 1999

The physical edge between a higher education campus and its neighboring community often serves as a place for tradition, celebration, and the joining of town and gown. However, this is not always the case. Edges can also create a wedge between these two entities through issues such as traffic and parking changes, unsightly views, and changes in the socio-economic structure of the campus surrounds. In recent years American colleges and universities have seen rising student enrollments, exacerbating these issues as the campus built environment rapidly changes and even expands. In response to these forces there has been a proliferated call for collaboration between campus and community, particularly related to the built environment design and planning process.

One obvious place for campus and municipal designers to join efforts is at the campus-community edge, where changes often significantly influence both sides. However, researchers describe that when town and gown work together, there are often dichotomous collaborative efforts where the university is in control. This is especially the case in American college towns, where the physical, economic, and social structure is by nature heavily influenced by the institution. A recent study out of Clemson University explores how collaborative efforts in the built environment design process might serve to make a more even playing field.

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