Universities world-wide have committed to addressing global ecological challenges at the local scale through physical planning and management of their campuses. At the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, a multi-year planning effort was made to create a vision and physical plans for the university that address emerging 21st century challenges facing the academic community. Ecological challenges were integral to this effort and an ecological advisory team comprised of faculty and students worked closely with planners to plan an ecologically sustainable campus. In this research we describe the process of integrating ecological values into university planning from the first phase of problem definition through implementation of recommendations into the university’s strategic master plan and statutory development plan.
The development of an ecological vision and implementable goals began in the classroom with landscape architecture graduate students, who were assigned to apply ecological principles to the physical planning of the campus at multiple scales. In parallel, the ecological advisory team conducted a three-phase study including 1) a review of ecological campus planning from universities abroad; 2) a campus ecosystem services survey and two biodiversity surveys, and 3) development of ecological recommendations for the strategic and the development plan.
Recommendations incorporated into the strategic plan included 1) the development of green infrastructures at the three spatial scales: the building, the interstitial areas between buildings, and the university’s forested areas; 2) implementation of campus-based ecological education and research programs, and 3) the development of infrastructure to highlight the cultural ecosystem services provided by the university’s vegetated areas. Recommendations for the development plan (which were implemented) included the designation of green core areas and a green corridor between them.
The process highlighted multiple challenges in advancing an ecological vision for the institution, particularly when ecological goals were perceived as impediments to other institutional goals. Dealing with these challenges drew out fundamental differences in perceptions of nature and degrees of “naturalness”, in opinions regarding the urban-nature continuum, in defining a desirable baseline for ecosystem integrity, and in defining the responsibility of the university to environmental stewardship and how this responsibility is best operationalized. We conclude by suggesting general strategies for exploiting the planning process towards ecological sustainability goals and the long-term conservation of green infrastructures, and advocate for the integration of students into campus ecological design activities.