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Key Objective: 4.2 Implement Resilient Landscape Strategy
Campus landscapes are our habitats: the places where we work, relax, and engage with others. Campus landscapes sustain us. They clean our air, beautify our surroundings, sequester carbon, and provide us with motivation and inspiration. Campus landscapes are as essential to our health and well-being as any brick-and-mortar infrastructure, and yet we often act as if the spaces between the buildings don’t matter. With proper design and direction, campus landscapes can become multi-functional spaces that support teaching and research, promote the well-being of our campus community, and contribute to our economic success by drawing new students and donors to our doors.
We have an obligation to steward and maintain our landscapes in sustainable ways, to reflect
upon the past and envision a healthier, more resilient future. Our campus landscapes must be future-focused and able to withstand the challenges of tomorrow: climate change, large storm events, and heavy use by tens of thousands of individuals.
The Resilient Landscape Strategy is organized around five key challenges: lack of a landscape master plan, an unclear decision-making structure, lack of resilient rainwater management, an inadequately resourced Grounds Department, and inconsistent funding for landscape improvements.
Increased visibility of greenery has positive impacts on students’ attention, stress, and mental wellness. The Resilient Landscape Strategy has already begun to address campus landscape health and its ability to motivate and sustain our community. In order for everyone to enjoy nature’s restorative qualities, the university will increase the amount and visibility of natural landscapes so that they can be enjoyed from anywhere on campus. For example: efforts to integrate greenery and natural lighting into existing space could result in construction of an indoor “sunroom,” which would serve as a positive environment for studying, working, reflecting, and hosting mental health workshops. As we add more indoor green rooms on campus, an online inventory of these locations will be made publicly available.
Additionally, identifying a walking path with plants on north and central campus would provide opportunities to self-tour and learn about native species.
Landscape Master Plan
While the 2017 Campus Master Plan provides an overall vision for a sustainable campus, the plan prioritizes buildings over landscapes. There is no cohesive vision for resilient campus landscapes and limited guidelines for ensuring landscapes’ long-term success. F&S is developing a Landscape Master Plan including a shared vision for the overall campus landscape and specific design guidelines. This will include establishing a steering committee, hiring an external landscape architecture firm, and initiating extensive public and stakeholder engagement. The Landscape Master Plan is scheduled to be completed with a high level of public and stakeholder engagement by fall 2021.
The University Landscape Architect’s (ULA) authority over campus landscapes is compromised by an unclear reporting structure and an uninformed appeals process. This often leads to disjointed designs and unsustainable development. F&S is working to establish a Campus Landscapes department, clarify the ULA’s role, and provide appropriate resources for informed decision-making.
In addition, there must be a landscape design appeals process outside of the standard capital programs variance process. Landscape and site projects that the ULA determines do not align with the Landscape Master Plan must adhere to this process to win approval. The landscape design appeals committee will include faculty members, students, administrative staff, and representation from the Native American community in keeping with the campus commitment to collaborate with Native Nations.
Rainwater management plan
Campus rainwater management conditions and standards are out of date, leading to flooding and creating opportunities for pollutants to contaminate local waterways. Rainwater is whisked away instead of being protected and used as a resource. To remedy this, we will require best management practices for rainwater in core campus and agricultural areas and adhere to a comprehensive rainwater management plan.
We will also increase opportunities for education and engagement for Grounds employees, the Illinois community, and students. We will initiate a recurring student competition for resilient landscape designs and fund implementation of winning submissions.
Resources for F&S Grounds Department
Campus landscapes and open spaces have been marginalized and simplified, leading to an overall loss of aesthetic value. Staff levels, equipment, and facilities are insufficient to maintain a high degree of resiliency. To improve our landscapes’ aesthetic and environmental functionality, we must increase the F&S Grounds staffing complement, including additional Grounds workers; reinstate the Grounds Gardener, Horticulturist, and Tree Assistant positions; and hire an ecologist. We must also train Grounds employees, both at F&S and for all units with Grounds staff, and provide units with appropriate equipment and facilities.
Funding for landscape improvements
While campus landscape improvements are frequently funded as part of capital building projects, site improvements are often the first to be cut when budgets are tight. We need a way to protect capital project funding for landscape improvements and ensure adequate funding beyond capital projects. Currently, little direct funding and donor support is expressly allocated to landscape improvements. We intend to earmark capital project funding for landscapes, develop a rainwater management fee, secure annual funding for landscape improvements, and prioritize efforts to seek donor funding.