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Landscape and Walkability— excerpt from the first Chapman Prize Report + Call for 2013 Prize

The Call for the 2013 Perry Chapman Prize is live through May only. Respondents are asked to address the question: How does the physical campus support institutional missions of learning and engagement?


Landscape and Walkability— excerpt from the first Chapman Prize Report


Please note that this research team is offering a 5-hour workshop on Sunday, July 28, at SCUP–48 in San Diego, "Conducting Research for Learning Space Design." Register now.


SCUP will soon publish the monograph, "Research on Learning Space Design: Present State, Future Directions," by Susan Painter, Janice Fournier, Caryn Grape, Phyllis Grummon, Jill Morelli, Susan Whitmer, and Joseph Cevetello. This team received the 2012 Perry Chapman Prize to support their work. The following is a brief excerpt about an important part of a campus, its open space.

LANDSCAPE AND WALKABILITY 

Strange and Banning (2001) reviewed research on the aspects of campus space that engender positive responses from users. They identified “the call for community, the call for territory, the call for landscape, and the call for wayfinding” (p. 28). We have talked about the call for community. The call for territory involves a focus on the safety of the campus; that is, do community members have a sense that they can see enough to be safe? How often do they confront places that could hide a predator? Do they perceive avenues of escape? While we are not covering studies related to safety, suffice it to say that a sense of security is an essential ingredient in creating a campus learning environment. As we know, people do not engage in higher-order activities if they do not feel safe and secure. The rest of this section will review research on the effects of landscaping and walkability as two additional facets of campus design that can potentially have an effect on learning.

 As Kenney, Dumont, and Kenney (2005, p. 138) note

A well-ordered landscape structures and reinforces the big idea in the campus plan; defines the campus’s outdoor spaces; provides, through pedestrian and vehicular circulation, effective means for movement of people, automobiles, and goods; expresses the institution’s roots in its site and region; and expresses the institution’s unique culture and identity.

In an effort to find out which aspects of campus design are most significant to students, Eckert (2012) created a valid and reliable survey of students’ reactions to features in the outdoor campus environment. After building the survey, Eckert used it to assess the views of students across eight large, regional, public universities in Ohio. Eight thousand students were randomly selected (1,000 per campus) and e-mailed invitations to participate. A total of 1,522 useable responses were received (about 21 percent of the sample). The survey assessed the importance of a feature or concept (e.g., cleanliness, cohesiveness) as well as students’ satisfaction with the attractiveness, amount, and functionality of those items. 

The survey included 22 different elements. The elements rated as most important included cleanliness, lighting, walkways, maintenance, parking, and planned design. Interestingly, Eckert reports that students from campuses with more cohesive design indicated that element was more important to them than did students from campuses without such cohesion, who were primarily neutral about that element. Students were largely satisfied with the attractiveness of elements on their campuses, but somewhat less enthusiastic about the amount and functionality of those elements. More importantly, the survey was able to differentiate student satisfaction among campuses with varying quality and amounts of these elements. A campus that is interested in knowing how its students perceive open space and how it might be improved would do well to administer this survey.

Plazas hold a special place in society and on campus. Two studies we noted addressed ways in which research may advance our understanding of how these spaces may be used to promote learning. The first study, by Goldfinger (2009), identifies the ways in which creating a branded space, Democracy Plaza, contributed to civic engagement and civil discourse at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IU-PUI). The university designed the space and its policies to provide students with opportunities to become civically engaged through the exchange of ideas. Democracy Plaza contains chalkboards on which members of the university can write about and comment on matters of political and civic importance to the campus. The space is also used for events, speeches, and other forms of activity that create engagement. The space has been “widely acknowledged by students, faculty, and staff across the university … as a space where people have an opportunity to express themselves and take part in robust deliberations about issues of civic concern” (Goldfinger 2009, pp. 75–76).

The second study used a post-occupancy evaluation of a campus open space to assess its effects on studying behavior. Spooner (2008) examined the use of the Memorial Garden at the University of Georgia through a survey and walk-through interviews. A convenience sample of students walking through the garden was used, and 67 surveys and interviews were conducted. Sixty-six percent of the students indicated that they study in the Memorial Garden. Most of these students study individually, as the post-occupancy analysis indicated that the places for sitting, primarily granite benches, did not encourage group work. Overall, Spooner’s analysis indicated that the Memorial Garden is successful in providing outdoor space for academic engagement.

Spooner (2011) provides additional insight into the walkability of campus design through his review of 37 master plans to assess how they addressed the need for students to spend only 10 minutes walking between classes. He noted in his review that campus designers are increasingly concerned not only about the time required for that walk, but also about the variety of experiences that may enhance students’ perceptions of the campus. Spooner focused his own study on how the perception of time was affected by the variety of visual experiences on six different pathways on the University of Georgia campus. Following the completion of each walk, close to the same number of feet, the 48 students in the study were asked to estimate how much time they thought the walk took and to take a short survey on what they recalled seeing during the walk and whether they perceived it positively or negatively. The results of the research indicated that walks with more positively rated elements (i.e., more visually interesting) were perceived as both shorter and taking less time than walks with more negative ratings. Factors that affected ratings included whether a path was straight or required a turn, at what angle architecture was viewed, and how heavy the traffic was on adjacent streets. Spooner concluded that designers could affect the perception of time and, hence, walkers’ sense of accomplishing their goals as quickly as possible.

Well-designed landscaping contributes to a campus’s sense of security and the satisfaction of its members. Students often study outside and find that welcoming open spaces are a key part of their academic engagement. Social activities and collaborative learning also take place in open space, but require different design considerations. Places for groups to gather require appropriate furniture and are often enhanced by the availability of food and beverages. While those campuses in milder climates make more use of outdoor spaces for these activities, virtually all campuses have places that promote the use of open space for these purposes.

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