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Thread: Residential neighborhoods near universities

  1. #1
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    Residential neighborhoods near universities

    Hi all -

    Out the gate, apologies for the vague title.

    I work for a university in a large, rapidly growing city. We're relatively young compared to other institutions, but growing fast and running into a number of growing pains. Our campus boundary more-or-less surrounds a residential neighborhood with approx. 150 single-family homes. Even though it's within walking distance of downtown, the neighborhood was developed in the 1950s and has a very suburban layout (curving streets), no alleys, no sidewalks, and lot densities that are (in my opinion) too large for its location. The university sees itself expanding into this area over the next 10-30 years, but there's a growing sentiment to preserve some of the neighborhood qualities there now. We just don't like the existing form. It doesn't lend itself to an urban campus.

    Wondering if any of you work in large communities with major universities, and have found ways to develop really vibrant neighborhoods next to campus? I can't imagine a scenario where we keep the existing layout of this neighborhood, but I'm very much interested in re-designing the area with more of a typical grid layout, higher (gentle) density and pedestrian amenities. I see potential for a very successful public-private-partnership, where a developer is selected to "re-build" the neighborhood, place deed restrictions on some units for faculty/housing, but also allow right of first refusal for those existing owners that want to remain in the area. Essentially, a mix of high-density single-family homes and multifamily housing, with all the right traits that make a neighborhood livable.

    Any thoughts (or communities to study) are greatly appreciated.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    We're gonna have a few clarifying questions... and not many of us are involved with campus planning. I worked a few years for a college town and served on the campus planning committee as a city representative, so I've got at least some familiarity.

    Is this a public or private university? This helps us to understand what types of eminent domain powers it might have.

    Does the university have its own utilities (water, sewer, cogeneration/steam, etc.), or is it on a municipal system?

    You mention curvy streets. That alone is not an "anti-urban" characteristic. What is the connectivity like? Is this cul-de-sac and loop-n-lollypop development patterns, or something closer to a curvilinear grid? I ask this because you see a lot of curvilinear "city beautfiul" influence in many university campuses--it is hardly a hindrance to good urban form.

    What is the architectural style of the university? Describe what it looks like and how it interacts with the public realm now, and what its physical aspirations are (is it changing architecture or approach to layouts, does it have a campus master plan, etc.)?

    What is the intended university use in this neighborhood? Academic facilities? Housing? Support services? If housing, you could actually have a good bit of fun working with retrofitting missing middle housing types--duplexes, multiplexes, townhomes, accessory units, etc. Be thoughtful in how you shape the public realm--remember that under those streets you have all of the utilities that are costly & a giant pain in the ass to move. You need solid conversations with the local government to understand what lies beneath.

    Are you engaging the community in the conversation yet? If not, you need to start that immediately. Otherwise, they are going to create a narrative for you and you are not going to like it.

    And tread incredibly cautiously. Many a college town has gone completely thermonuclear when universities acquire land, particularly by force through eminent domain. You will likely get an extremely negative neighborhood uprising, and you will be painted as evil jackbooted invaders in the press and the court of public opinion. People can and frequently lose jobs in non-faculty university positions for handling these types of initiatives poorly.

    Be cautious with Public-Private Partnerships for university redevelopment. I've seen that go badly in a few places now, particularly involving student housing. Be particularly wary of American Campus Communities. Perhaps they've improved, but they screwed-up big time in a project a worked with them on.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    We're gonna have a few clarifying questions... and not many of us are involved with campus planning. I worked a few years for a college town and served on the campus planning committee as a city representative, so I've got at least some familiarity.
    Thanks for all the questions.

    - This is a public university.

    - Only utility that the university controls is steam heat, and has access to the municipality's geothermal system in several facilities. We have dedicated power loops, but not dedicated generation.

    - Connectivity is actually very bad. 5+ cul-de-sacs throughout this neighborhood, and close to no sidewalks or off-street pedestrian paths. Students and residents typically just walk in the street. The curvilinear streets mostly just terminate at cross streets.

    - We have a recent (2015) master plan. Not all phases were adopted, including one showing an increase of housing and community-oriented facilities in this neighborhood. The time frame for that phase was too far into the future, and we held off requesting approval from the city. Most of what was shown was high-density student living facilities - not neighborhood housing. I'm actually relieved that this phase of the master plan was left out; I'm much more excited about pulling off a quality neighborhood environment in this area, versus more dormitories.

    - For the past ten years, the university has been implementing fairly modern architecture. It's brick-heavy, but incorporates metal panels, sandstone, and large glass storefronts. We only have a handful of buildings with historic campus architecture. Overall, I'd argue that we're flexible. We don't have strong design guidelines, and architecture seems to be a moving target, at times, on our campus.

    - Engagement with the neighborhood has been a real rough spot in the past. I came on board here somewhat recently and was shocked at how bad relationships were. After the master plan process, I've led a new effort to engage in a non-reactive way. We hold quarterly talking sessions with neighbors, and meet even more frequently with smaller groups. We're making progress mending old wounds, but many owners still view us as the enemy. The renter/owner occupancy ratio in this neighborhood, by the way, is about 5:3.

    - P3 is just one delivery model that I'm stewing on. American Campus Communities is VERY active at ASU, but thanks for the heads-up. I believe some of their leaseback agreements at ASU run 80+ years...

  4. #4
    If I am reading your post correctly you are talking about buying up properties and then demoing them to make a more urban style college neighborhood like you find in other cities? I think a better approach would be to see how you can use incremental changes to make the neighborhood more pedestrian friendly and then have design guidelines for any new or redeveloped properties so you can further your vision. It would be much easier (but still really hard) to get neighborhood buy in if you can demonstrate that walkable, pedestrian scaled neighborhoods benefit everyone. If they see a campus master plan that shows encroachment into their neighborhood you will never get buy in from them or the City. What is the condition of the existing housing stock?
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Doberman's avatar
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    Is everything around the campus in all directions built out? How does the University's plan correspond with the city's master plan? When you say the university is expanding in what way are you projected to grow into this neighborhood? Are there going to be more campus buildings, dorms, or what? If your University just wants a few more "Centers for kids who can't read good" type buildings you can probably curtail what's already there and retrofit them to your needs.

    In regards to grid layout I see your desire to do so, but that's certainly a lofty and expensive goal. You're talking about significant costs with buying the properties, demolishing them, engineering, creating more impervious surfaces, etc. Is your campus laid out in a grid? Like SR asked what is the architectural style of your campus? Is it similar to the downtown area? If your campus and the downtown are on a grid, and have similar architectural designs along with walkability, then I could see this maybe worth doing.

    How many culdesacs are there? Can they be connected by a road trail?

    I would be a somewhat cautious about planning for property you don't own yet.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Whoooaah there, hold up

    I'm a little disturbed by the explicit, glossed-over assumption by the university that This Here Land Will Be Ours.

    That is not a given. That should never be assumed to be a given without really good cause.

    I have a feeling that assumption was carelessly expressed to the neighbors in the past, and is the core reason for their hostility (rightly so).

    I second Doberman's questions about whether everything else around the university in all directions is built out, and exactly what the university's expansion into the neighborhood will accomplish for the university. (I think you actually answered the latter, having mentioned "units for faculty/housing", "right of first refusal for...existing owners that want to remain" and "a mix of...single-family...and multifamily housing", though you ominously omitted any mention of renters who want to remain, and thus left out 60% of the neighborhood's people, which might also be a source of hostility and opposition). I would add the question of whether options for more housing (or whatever the university proposes for the neighborhood expansion) have truly been exhausted on the land the university has, and that mere inconvenience and aesthetics alone will not (or at least should not) fly as excuses for not exhausting those options and jumping right into expansion.

    These are questions that must be clearly and thoroughly addressed before even considering any eminent domain or large-scale purchase of 150 peoples'/families' homes, let alone planning for what to do with them afterward.

    If you can come up with creative and workable solutions that avoid EmDom/purchase, bravo. If not, at least you will have built a solid case for acquiring the neighborhood, and can use that as a starting point for negotiations with the neighbors. And when you start those, always keep in mind: what's in it for them? If you want to sell them on this, there have to be real benefits for them that they actually want (not what you think they ought to want), benefits that are actually going to happen if this goes through and are not just airy speculation or empty promises.

    Good luck, and keep us updated!

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