Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Creating Community: Designing Spaces That Make a Difference

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Creating Community: Designing Spaces That Make a Difference

Article excerpt

Sometimes thinking outside the box requires designing within the boxbe that box a university prerequisite or a campus facility.

This is a time of profound change in both higher education and in society. Some suggest that American politics have reached a new low point of incivility; violence stemming from cultural disrespect has become too common on our campuses and in our cities; and the national narrative about the cost of higher education is growing louder and more shrill (see, for example, Blumenstyk 2012). In fact, it is this latter point--concern about the cost of higher education amidst a historic decline in the funding for higher education--that seemingly collides with a current reality: incredible sums of money are still being spent on physical buildings. Basu (2011) reports, for example, that almost $12 billion was spent on campus facilities in 2011 (two-thirds of it on new construction). Does this level of investment in the physical plant of our nation's colleges and universities reflect a proverbial "tin ear" to changing economics and societal discord about the value of higher education? Perhaps. Inarguable, however, is that American higher education has a unique responsibility to use its resources for the most pressing of societal needs.

Indeed, colleges and universities are much more than a collection of buildings; they also serve as incubators of intellectual understanding and perpetuators of civic commitment. At their best, the nation's colleges and universities reflect the intentional creation of relationships designed to nurture a shared vision of purpose and values (Tomorrow's Professor n.d.). In fact, Boyer (1990) asked over two decades ago, "if students and faculty cannot join together in common cause, if the university cannot come together in a shared vision of its central mission, how can we hope to sustain community in the society at large?" (p. 3).

Boyer's (1990) vision is compelling, but it is also complicated by many tensions. These tensions--continued investment in the campus physical plant despite criticism that higher education is insensitive to the rising costs of education; record enrollments in these places of civic learning midst a decline in civility between people and communities; a still growing understanding about the relevance of the physical environment in a virtual world--require more intentional examination if Boyer's question is to be answered. At least one intentional examination took the form of a unique think tank called "Physical Place on Campus: A Summit on Community," which included the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) and nine other associations.

SUMMIT BACKGROUND

The idea for the summit was born of the belief that there must be a better way to plan for, design, and manage campus space, and that there must be a more intentional way to align the transformative power of physical place with higher education's overarching goals, including the obligation to develop in students the skills of citizenship and public life (Astin 1999). Fundamentally, summit organizers believed it important to explore whether physical spaces are making appropriate contributions to the learning and civic goals of the nation's colleges and universities.

There must be a more intentional way to align the transformative power of physical place with higher education's overarching goals.

Undergirding this sense of importance is the belief that community is fundamental for a well-rounded education. In an increasingly diverse society, college students must have frequent opportunities to practice productive interaction and constructive disagreement, experience high-quality socialization, and learn to live productively in community with one another. Especially important to ensure are opportunities and places for students to experience different perspectives, life experiences, and world views while developing in themselves a sense of self as part of a community with concomitant responsibilities to others. …

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