Sep 05, 2012
THEME: Learning

Lessons in Higher Ed: Space Drives Policy

In my recent higher education practice I have made an interesting observation – facilities planning and land planning presents a portal, of sorts, into addressing what are often more abstract and delicate issues of organizational policy change.

Let me begin with an example. I have been working with a suburban campus that has a core culture of travel by car to and from campus, and even around campus. Commuter students, faculty, and staff make their daily trek to campus in their cars. Residential students bring their cars from home to campus, and use them to venture off campus for food, shopping, and entertainment, and to go home for the holidays.

Due to the location of the institution away from an urban center, it is reasonable to assume that the campus will always affect some degree of vehicular travel. However it is important for the institution to shift its mindset away from the single-occupant car and foster a culture of a walkable environment on campus as well as alternative modes of transportation for traveling to and from campus for the following reasons:

  • The institution’s sustainability goals, which include reduction in its overall carbon footprint,
  • The impact of car traffic on campus roadways and supporting infrastructure,
  • Safety issues associated with the high number of potential conflict points between cars and pedestrians,
  • The opportunity to encourage student health and wellbeing by encouraging a culture of walking on campus.

We met with leadership from the institution to communicate these drivers. While they all agreed to the importance of reducing their dependence on the single-occupant vehicle, they had strong concerns about the ability to make the policy changes that would be required to do so.

At this point we changed our approach to the issue. Rather than focusing on the strategic drivers for a walkable campus, we focused on the facilities and land implications of their current car culture. We were able to articulate to leadership that if they do not change their policy toward the single-occupant vehicle, its use by 2020 will increase to the level of needing to pave an additional 16 acres of campus land and increase the width of the roadways by one lane in either direction. Given the topography of the campus and density of construction at the core, both providing more parking and widening roadways will be difficult to implement.

In approaching the issue of car travel through a facilities and land planning perspective, we were able to help the institution’s leadership clearly understand the importance of a making the cultural change and implementing the associated policy shifts.

This process of addressing policy and pedagogy issues through the filter of facilities and land asserts its value again and again in our planning for higher education. Because of the inherent physicality and tangibility associated with buildings and land, planning with these issues at the forefront helps organizations to visualize the decisions they are making on a more abstract policy level. Furthermore, physical space planning helps organizational leadership communicate such policy issues externally to their constituents.

This post was originally authored by Sarah Friedel. 

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