The Dynamic Decade
Universities go through boom and bust growth cycles, similar to private development. Boom periods intensify town/gown conflicts, but also inspire creative planning. The boom years of planned growth at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are a case in point.
This turbulent era of campus development was an intriguing mix of planning, politics, and design, as analyzed in the 2012 book The Dynamic Decade: Creating the Sustainable Campus for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2001-2011 (by David R. Godschalk and Jonathan B. Howes).
Thanks to passage of a major state bond issue, completion of an innovative master plan, and effective political leadership and design guidance, this beautiful 18th century campus was transformed during 10 fast-moving years of growth. Enrollment increased by 3,400 students, and 300 new faculty were recruited.
Catalyzed by funding of $2.3 billion from the bond, private contributions, university investments, and state appropriations, master plan, implementation took off at a furious pace, including:
- construction of six million square feet of new buildings,
- renovation of a million square feet of existing buildings,
- creation of five million square feet of pedestrian paths and open space,
- initiation of a free university/town bus system, and
- institution of a new university sustainability office.
Needless to say, the scale and pace of the growth generated both internal and external conflicts and pressures. Had this growth not been firmly guided, the resulting impacts on both the campus and the town could have been catastrophic.
Community debates heated up over university growth into adjacent neighborhoods, worsened off-campus traffic impacts from new university facilities, and appropriate architecture for campus-edge buildings. Neighbors fought student family housing on a residential street, and political protest against a campus parking structure/chiller plant propelled an opposing resident onto the town council.
Town-gown politics could have short-circuited the planned campus growth. Under state law, UNC building is subject to Chapel Hill zoning. Under the previous ordinance, which set a campus FAR limit and prescribed reviews and hearings for each new building that often extended over two or more years, the UNC plan would have been impossible to implement. Delays would have been lengthened, and the public participation process would have been further fragmented.
To avoid institutional gridlock and allow a more integrated review, the town and university negotiated a new zoning district that takes a comprehensive, longer-term view. It requires the university to submit a development plan with a 10-year schedule of construction, allowing the town to review and approve the proposed campus plan as a whole, rather than in a series of building-by-building steps. Thus, the public debated, and the elected officials required, mitigation of the impacts of the complete development, rather than incremental pieces.
The approved plan enhances campus sustainability with increased transit and pedestrian access, comprehensive stormwater management and environmental protection, and better designed ensembles of historic and new buildings. Arguably, these benefits could not have been realized without town/gown collaboration on the new zoning and implementation approach.
About the authors:
David R. Godschalk, FAICP, is Professor Emeritus of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He was co-chair of the APA Sustaining Places Task Force and has published 11 books on growth management/land use planning, natural hazard mitigation/coastal management, and development dispute resolution/ public participation. His co-authored text, Urban Land Use Planning (University of Illinois Press, 2006) is in its fifth edition.
Jonathan B. Howes chaired the Executive Steering Team of the 2001 Campus Master Plan and was co-convener of the first steering committee for the Horace Williams tract. He has served as director of the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies.