Campus & Community

The developers of East Campus are charged with creating an instant college town that will allow the University of Maryland to attract the faculty and students necessary to become one of the country’s top ten research universities. However, the project’s potential to act as a development catalyst for the area in a multiplicity of ways: architecturally, environmentally, culturally and socially, while succeeding commercially, is very important. Other universities, including a number of UMD’s top ten peers, are growing and some approach it as a long-term commitment to their neighboring communities. Although there are obvious differences, the planning process itself is worth examination as the East Campus Steering Committee continues to meet.

Harvard University’s Allston Initiative is a largely private, university endeavor. However, in a sense the university has partnered with the City of Boston in reconfiguring the 200+ acres it holds in Allston. From their website:

The Allston Initiative is the planning effort to create the framework for the University’s physical development in Allston. Our goal is to plan in a way that best supports Harvard’s academic mission and growth needs while ensuring that the new campus is an integral part of the broader urban community.

They hired a world class team to design and plan the Allston campus. Originally created in the late 1980s, the Allston master plan has since been amended a few times. The construction takes place over the next 25-50 years and includes moving professional schools from across the river, science lab buildings, undergrad housing and community areas.

The main task force, which has existed for many years, will follow along the entire development trip and meets at least once every month. Additional task forces focus on specific areas: professional schools, science and technology, Allston life, etc. The Allston Initiative adopted the university’s green campus initiative and accompanying programs.

Columbia University’s Manhattanville Initiative is also private; the university owns the 17 acres and is developing the parcels itself. The overall time frame is 20-30 years. Columbia already owns and manages a vast real-estate portfolio and hired a team including Renzo Piano and SOM to come up with a plan to present to the City and the neighborhood

The plan is to create a mixed-use community with academics at the center, not an expansion of the enclosed campus. Development would happen in phases, gradually moving north towards 135th street and west to the river. The community input process has been going for at least 5 years and Columbia’s relationship with the neighborhood is tense at best—especially so after the University really fouled it up with its Morningside Heights proposals back in the late 1960s. Columbia is seen as the 6 million pound gorilla wielding its power over under-privileged neighbors.

First, the project has to go through a formal rezoning process with NYC: it was zoned for manufacturing and Columbia desires academic and mixed-uses. This is a long process with an uncertain outcome.

The current plans show businesses and community related services woven throughout the project, especially at street level. The university is touting the economic benefits of the project, new jobs during the construction and new non-academic jobs after that. Residents of existing buildings to be redeveloped will be relocated, though the number of people affected is relatively small (approx. 130 people).

The University signed onto NYC’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gases by 30% in the next 10 years and the project is part of the Environmentally Sustainable Neighborhood Design Pilot Program by USGBC and its LEED standards program. From the press release:

Acceptance to the program provides the University with the support and verification needed to play a pioneering role as it works with the USGBC to help set the standard for future urban planning…It recognizes sound planning in areas such as proximity to mass transit; mixed uses such as art, community, academic, retail, and residential; open neighborhood access and walkable streets; and green construction.

Why some much time spent on community input? Why so much time and thought focused on how the University can be a leader in sustainable design practices? Why so much time and effort expended on the architectural design of the sites and buildings itself? Let’s just say that they’d like to avoid the greeting that Penn’s Sansom Commons received. Years have gone by, fences have been mended and things have greatly improved in the University City District, but lessons were learned.

In our local case, it seems clear that careful study and time spent now can only benefit the University of Maryland and surrounding communities.–Marc Stauffer

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Filed under Community, Developers, East Campus, Environment, Public Input

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