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Resources at Colleges and Universities

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Colleges and universities have a broad impact on the built environment. First, as institutions that serve a population of students, faculty, and staff they need to maintain and grow their own facilities. They are typically responsible for providing classrooms, offices, research space, laboratories, administrative offices, housing, transportation facilities from parking to buses to bike racks and bikes, as well as space for retail operations like book stores, printing shops, and restaurants. The institution as a developer has a large impact on the way land is used both on and off campus. Second, colleges and universities are turning out the next generation of citizens who may, either professionally or as a member of a community, be involved in determining development patterns long into the future. In addition, faculty and student researchers across the nation are producing pure and applied research on our built environment. Third, as part of the community service component of most institutions' mission, faculty, staff, and students provide technical assistance to communities, community groups, and decision-makers all across the country.

Providing outreach and education on smart growth approaches to development to institutions of higher learning and understanding the depth of these institutions as resources on the built environment has evolved as an important priority for EPA.

For more information on this page or the resources listed, please contact Matthew Dalbey (dalbey.matthew@epa.gov, 202-566-2860) or Kevin Nelson (nelson.kevin@epa.gov, 202-566-2835).

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The institution as developer

Colleges and universities are economic engines, and their impact extends beyond the edge of their traditional campus boundaries. This section lists some resources on the university as developer and its influence on local economies.


Collaborating on Greensboro's Future: The University Roundtable and Next Steps: This report, produced through EPA's Smart Growth Implementation Assistance program, discusses the development challenges currently facing Greensboro, North Carolina, and its vision for future growth. It outlines potential strategic directions the city and its colleges and universities could pursue by working collaboratively. Led by Mayor Yvonne Johnson, the one-day University Roundtable meeting was attended by presidents, chancellors, and senior administrators from the seven colleges and universities in Greensboro, as well as representatives of economic development agencies, neighborhood groups, historic preservationists, and local government officials. The roundtable was the first step in finding collaborative solutions to challenges related to growth and development (on and off campus), economic competitiveness, and environmental quality in Greensboro. The roundtable found consensus around five strategic approaches for Greensboro to better leverage its colleges and universities:

  1. Re-envision Greensboro as a "college town";
  2. Collaborate on physical development projects;
  3. Create economic development partnerships;
  4. Enhance the colleges and universities' role in promoting neighborhood stability; and
  5. Address sustainability and respond to climate change.

For another example of EPA's Smart Growth Implementation Assistance program being used to address growth and development-related challenges on and near university campuses, see Spokane's University District: Policy Options for a New Urban Center.

Communities of Opportunity: Colleges and universities are continuously growing. How and where investments are made in new facilities and the interaction between the campus and the adjacent communities are of increasing importance to students, faculty, staff, administrators, and community members. Industry analysts indicate that new construction and renovations on college and university campuses totals more than $14 billion per year. Enrollments are expected to continue to grow through the end of this decade. In addition to enrollment, expanded research agendas, the possibility to partner with industry on research, and the desire of many institutions and surrounding communities to partner on development projects also drives the need for new and expanded facilities.

Communities of Opportunity: Smart Growth Strategies for Colleges and Universities (PDF) (48 pp, 38.7 MB, About PDF)Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer makes the case that the growth and development of new facilities that support the functions of a college or university - whether on or off campus - is an opportunity to add to and enhance the physical identity of an institution, use limited resources more efficiently and maximize investments, improve relations across the campus boundary and with local communities, and demonstrate that an institution is and can be a good steward for the environment. This 2007 report is published by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and Ayers Saint Gross Architects. EPA staff contributed written sections to this report.

"Teaming Up for Smart Growth." Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer This article by Karla Hignite appeared in the May 2008 issue of Business Officer, the monthly magazine of the National Association of College and University Business Officers. It discusses the value of including neighboring communities in multipurpose capital projects and strengthening town-gown bonds and includes several examples.

The City, Land and The University Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer: This Lincoln Institute of Land Policy program focuses on colleges and universities and their efforts to develop both on and off campus.

Leveraging Colleges and Universities for Urban Economic Revitalization: An Action Agenda (PDF) (37 pp, 700K, About PDF)Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer and Vision and Strategy in Action: Two In-Depth Case Studies (PDF) (31 pp, 461K, About PDF)Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer: This 2002 report from CEOs for Cities Conversations and the Institute for a Competitive Inner City discusses the importance of colleges and universities in urban redevelopment and revitalization, and how community leaders, elected officials, and college and university administrators have worked together to achieve common goals.

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Teaching and research

With their teaching, research, and service missions, colleges and universities across the country teach best practices, provide professional training, and carry out analysis of land use policies and practice. Much of this educational effort has come from traditional course offerings in programs dealing with the built environment such as planning, architecture, policy, law, engineering, and public health. Increasingly, though, colleges and universities have been places where local officials such as municipal legislators, planning commissioners, and staff have received training on land use practice.


Partnerships for Smart Growth: University-Community Collaboration for Better Public Spaces: Written under a cooperative agreement between EPA and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, this report profiles 13 university-led collaborations on smart growth initiatives.

Teaching smart growth at colleges and universities: A set of model course prospectuses: This page contains a set of course descriptions and syllabi produced by faculty members from universities around the country. These prospectuses describe how faculty members have integrated smart growth approaches to development in their teaching.

Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer: EPA co-sponsors this conference focused on strategies and tools for colleges and universities to implement policies that produce smart growth and sustainable results. This event is attended by students, faculty, staff, and administrators including facility managers, business officers, and sustainability coordinators, among others.

Federal Highway Administration Course on Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation (PDF) (4 pp, 772K, About PDF)Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer: The Federal Highway Administration has developed a course on pedestrian and bicycle transportation. The course covers planning and engineering issues, design and engineering techniques, and implementation.

University Real Estate Development: Campus Expansion in Urban Settings Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer: Working paper on the University Real Estate database and campus expansion in urban settings, created by the University of Baltimore with research assistance provided by the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy.

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Service and technical assistance

Service and technical assistance centers associated with colleges and universities are providing technical assistance and services on land use directly to local governments, non-profits, and other organizations that are interested in seeing better outcomes from new growth and development. Some of this work is in the form of training to elected officials, staff, and community groups, while other is applied research and direct technical assistance through a variety of methods, such as contracts or class projects or a combination of both.

Research and Service Centers

University of Maryland
National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Works in four subject areas: land use and environmental policy, housing and community development, transportation and human health, and international urban development.

University of Georgia
UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government
Alliance for Quality Growth Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Does applied research and provides assistance on policy tools and best practices for better land development approaches.

Smart Growth University Training
Courses are aimed at elected officials, professional staff, developers, and citizens.

University of North Carolina
Center for Urban and Regional Studies
Smart Growth and the New Economy Program Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

Georgia Institute of Technology
College of Architecture
Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

Community Partnerships: University Service and Applied Research Programs

University of Cincinnati
UC/Community Interactions and Collaborations: A Study of Peer Institutions Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Researchers in the University of Cincinnati's planning department, with funding from the university president's office, did an assessment of the current state of university/community partnerships across North America. The study includes 21 case studies of existing partnerships.

Rutgers University
National Center for Neighborhood and Brownfields Redevelopment Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Strategic planning initiative of the university focused on service, education, and research. No specific project focus, more research oriented. Includes Smart Growth section.

University of Hawaii
Collaborative projects between Sea Grant Program and School of Architecture Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Sustainable development and community planning.

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
Center for Architecture and Urban Planning Research
Metro Milwaukee Initiative Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Current research on sprawl and smart growth

Virginia Tech
Metropolitan Institute Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
College of Architecture and Urban Studies
Focused research on the New Metropolis, Fair Growth, Green Regions, Smart Governance, and World Cities.

The Ohio State University
Campus Partners for Urban Redevelopment Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Promotes improvement to the neighborhoods around Ohio State, known as the University District, including creating revitalization plans for these neighborhoods.

Cornell University
Department of Natural Resources Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Community and Rural Development Institute Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Topics include land use, main street revitalization, local government, economic development, etc.

Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis
School of Public and Environmental Affairs
Center for Urban Policy and Environment Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Broad topics for research and analysis. No direct smart growth application or work.

Michigan State University
United Growth for Kent County Project Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Promoting positive land use through public education, capacity building, and applied community leadership. Rural and urban components. Direct involvement with neighborhoods to provide them with resources and technical assistance.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Department of Urban and Regional Planning
East St. Louis Action Research Project Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Community assistance and development project to address the immediate and long-term needs of some of the city's most distressed communities.

University of Florida
Conservation Clinic Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Interdisciplinary effort in the law school focusing on applied education and addressing needs for conservation.

University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning Department Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Hosts several initiatives, including the Citizen Planner Training Collaborative and the Community Preservation Institute.

University of Oregon
Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management and the School of Architecture and Allied Arts
Community Planning Workshop Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Students work with clients throughout the state, applied learning and research.

University of Wisconsin
Department of Urban and Regional Planning
UW-Extension Program Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Community outreach, workshops.

West Virginia University
Center for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Community Development
Community Design Team Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Multidisciplinary team (architects, planners, geographers, historians, economic development experts, etc.) to work with local communities on their needs. Limited smart growth application, but very applied learning, especially in rural settings.

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