A view of Emory from Professor Dana White
Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts

More on the Emory campus master plan

Academic Exchange September 1999 Contents Page

Professor Dana White joined the Emory faculty in 1970. An urban studies and American studies scholar, he has written extensively on Atlanta and uses the city as a laboratory for his graduate and undergraduate courses. The Academic Exchange asked White to reflect on the evolving Emory campus from both a personal and an urban historian's perspective.

Since I began teaching here, I've arrived on the Emory campus from four different directions, sometimes walking, sometimes driving, sometimes taking the bus. But my mental image of Emory is a walker's image--I'm always walking to my office in the Callaway Center on the Quad, coming from someplace else. If you walk from Lullwater Road down North Decatur toward Emory, you see the campus ahead of you, and it emerges slowly. It looks monumental. But if you're driving--if your arrival takes only one minute, rather than five or six minutes--you have an entirely different perspective, a major difference of scale.

I find walking very relaxing, a good time for new ideas, new thoughts. I'm not a morning person, so I come in late morning and stay until early evening four or five days a week. When I want a break, I sometimes walk over to the Coca-Cola Commons and drink some yuppie coffee. I like it when it's not crowded; it has the feeling almost of a modest-sized railroad station--a 1920s, 1930s feel to it, with its echo.

To get to my office these days, I park my car at Fishburne and walk across the little bridge and through the archway at Carlos, then up the stairs onto the Quad. Walking up and into the Emory campus sometimes makes me think of John Winthrop's observation that the Puritan community "shall be a city upon a hill."

The other thing I notice when I'm walking is the greenery, the fact that we are at the edge of an urban forest that we're managing to destroy as quickly as possible. We talk so much about sprawl in Atlanta, but we are an automobile-based culture. You can see the automobile's dominance on this campus--which in my view has certainly been overbuilt. Buildings are scattered higgledy-piggledy around the open spaces.

The original [1915 architect Henry] Hornbostel plan for the campus is much more grandiose than what was built. They didn't have the money for it then. The
university has added a lot of what I call in-fill buildings--White Hall, Woodruff Library, much of the medical complex--and they're all just big blocks put side by side. Theoretically, the Quad is the center of campus, but if you look around, you'll see that visually, the power center is the medical complex. That's where the biggest buildings are. I would like the campus to have more nodes of activity to entice me to go here and there. That's hard, because for faculty and staff, it's basically a commuter campus. Very few arts and sciences faculty can afford to live close by; they're in other neighborhoods. Emory is a suburban landscape with very real boundaries.

I have strong opinions about these things, but I'm not on any of the architectural or planning committees for Emory. Maybe that's partly because as someone living in the neighborhood, I've been opposed to a lot of Emory's expansion ideas. We're using Emory as a reference point here, but in fact, I find that most American universities are very aggressive about their campuses. They use lots of land, and they're not accustomed to opposition.

The current master plan tends to rationalize the in-fill problem by closing off traffic and re-creating open spaces throughout the campus, so that miniature versions of the Quad will draw you from one area of the campus to another. On the whole, I think the plan looks very good on paper, and the plan for Emory West looks very good on paper. But I have a concern: who is going to enforce the plan over the long term? What happens after the next president comes in, and the president after that and after that? Very often these plans are rolled up and put in the cabinet and not paid much attention to. Who speaks for the Emory campus, in the way a parks administrator speaks for the park? I'm afraid that the answer is nobody--or rather, a lot of people, but they're not well coordinated. I would like to see a commission or some kind of system put in place to speak, over the long term, for the campus itself.

Interviewer Faye Goolrick is a freelance writer in Atlanta. Cartoonist Paige Braddock has a regular comic strip, Jane's World.