February 9, 2004

Master plan update needs green touch

John Wegner is campus environmental officer.

Emory is updating its 1998 Campus Master Plan (CMP) (www.fm.emory.edu/PLAN/ ). Part of this process involves conducting "lessons learned" sessions with various constituencies on campus. Questions include: Which elements of the plan worked and which didn't? Where do we go from here?

As campus environmental officer, I am interested in what environmental elements were included in the CMP, how successfully they met their goals, and what additional environmental components should be added to the updated plan. The three most important environmental features of the current CMP are the guiding principle to create a walking campus, the guiding principle of sacred spaces, and the campus design guidelines for landscape planting.

Implementation of the walking-campus principle has been very successful. Much of the central campus is now restricted to pedestrians, bicycles and shuttle buses. Future open-space projects are anticipated to remove even more automobile traffic from the campus core.

However, in addition to creating a walking campus, we need to incorporate a bicycle path/trail system into the CMP. Not only do we need to identify bike routes on campus, but we also need to connect these routes to others that extend into the surrounding community. Recent discussions with DeKalb County officials suggest that Emory's bike paths could be incorporated into a larger path network.

The guiding principle of sacred spaces has had direct environmental impact. It identifies Baker Woodlands and Lullwater as two such sacred spaces. With campus development over the last six years, these places have become even more special.

The works of the Ad Hoc Committee on Environmental Stewardship and the Friends of Emory Forest have removed English ivy from Baker Woodlands and have seen the planting of many trees and shrubs in these two areas. Fund raising for the first phase of the Lullwater Comprehensive Management Plan is under way. This project will both restore one of Lullwater's creeks and add a 25-foot forested buffer to the stream. We need to add other areas such as Hahn Woods, Wesley Woods and Harwood Forest to our list of sacred spaces.

Maintaining the campus landscape has been a tremendous challenge since the CMP was unveiled. The design guidelines recommend that we "preserve all remaining woodlands." This has presented difficulties, but we have many new tools to meet them. Since 1998 we have expanded our tree protection program, completed a campus vegetation map, produced the Lullwater Comprehensive Management Plan, and implemented the No Net Loss of Forest Canopy policy.

All these policies and programs should be incorporated into the CMP update so that the entire Emory community is aware of the University's commitment to environmental stewardship, and so that all involved in implementing the plan have a blueprint to follow as they work to fulfill our environmental mission.

Another major development since 1998 is the fact that Emory has become a leader in green building by using the guiding principles of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) on all recent projects. Incorporating LEED into the master plan will be an important advance.

Perhaps the most important challenge facing the University does not come from within, but rather from the broader community in which Emory is embedded. Urban sprawl is a fact of life in Atlanta. The Clifton Corridor is one of the city's most heavily traveled routes, and that trend will only continue as we and our neighbors continue to develop.

That's why the University is conducting a comprehensive transportation study. Principles of new urbanism and smart growth should be incorporated into the updated plan to reflect the transportation and growth challenges ahead.