The campus is kinked. The University of Kansas needs a real campus plan-- a simple campus plan-- to foster community and retain the freshmen, to attract the big research and help the environment, to welcome the townsfolk and wow the tourists. But first and last to foster community. If you step back and look at this place where we all come together, you will see that what we need is one good road.
For well over a century, the University of Kansas has grown along a meandering ray from northeast to southwest, riding the growth waves of Lawrence. Starting in 1866 where Corbin and GSP are, it essentially progressed down Jayhawk Boulevard, reaching the Chi Omega fountain around the time of the Second World War. This is an unusual arrangement for a university campus, and one we still hold dear.
And then in the postwar a funny thing happened. The University kept expanding to the southwest, but it lost the backbone of Jayhawk Boulevard. Some very important parts of the University-- the schools of Fine Arts, Engineering, and Law, and even Allen Field House-- lie in an odd little limbo-land of bad traffic where the campus is awkwardly interrupted by the city street grid.
But then the campus regained its spine and meandered on again, past the Burge Union and the dorms, apartments, and newlywed housing along Irving Hill Road. After crossing Iowa Street it swung south of Lied Center along Constant Avenue, along which lies the Endowment and a host of research halls. Finally, out in the Uni's boonies, in the habitat of longhaired biologists, it turns onto an unnamed gravel road which ends in a rustic gate at the corner of Clinton and Lawrence, the University's apparent endpoint.
This process created a place we are lucky to inherit. But it has drawbacks, starting with its status distinctions. The University's heart, practically and symbolically, is properly up on Jayhawk Boulevard, but that's poor reason to treat the gyms, dorms and schools down off the hill as unwanted stepchildren in a second-status campus. In our heads of course we don't, but out in that landscape we certainly do. And then there's West Campus (or "Campus West," which sounds like a line of bad clothes from JC Penney), whose name suggests squatting or bastardy. Not the Main Campus, not quite off-campus, just the West Campus. People working there-- some of our best and brightest-- will sometimes say they "haven't been on campus in weeks." Does that sound right?
There are more practical problems. Transit, by bus or car, is not well served by this layout. Don't we think it's strange that driving from Jayhawk Boulevard to the "middle" campus essentially means leaving campus while rounding Lindley? We also fail to make our best impressions on visitors. One of the authors first visited KU by car with family; 15th Street suggested that we must have been in the wrong place, and the condensers and loading docks on Hoch Auditoria Drive definitely confirmed that impression. The expensive new gateway at the Visitor Center is a thought in the right direction, but misplaced. KU is a big place with only back doors, and unfortunately these false first impressions are reinforced on repeat visits as well, since the vast majority of visitors to our campus drive through on Iowa Street, where we offer them chain-link fences and a gray old bridge without so much as a sign.
Here's the root problem: our campus landscape undercuts our community. These days people mouth the word "community" incessantly, as if hearing a nice word hundreds of times will offset our loss of the thing itself. We need to remember that we are a scholarly community, and not a corporation hawking "educational solutions." But our physical arrangements invite status divisions into our community; they frustrate some of our practical functioning as a community; they fail to invite people into the community, and they don't do all they could to foster the sense of belonging and affection which bring people together. To the Chancellor's two rules for campus development-- respect learning and preserve beauty-- we should add a third: foster community.
Let's connect that line of meandering road along which the University grew. The pieces are there; we just need to hook them together. The two key points are bridges.
The existing bridge over Iowa Street would be an excellent "front door"-- the crest of a hill, the center of the University's lands, right by the Visitor Center, and plenty of parking on either side. Iowa Street, between 15th and 19th, should ultimately get a grass median as 15th already has, and it should be slowed down for safety's sake anyway. Entrance and exit ramps from Iowa Street would provide easy access to the University, and a natural transit hub for the city. Lied Center's success as park-and-ride should be built upon. And where Irving Hill Road passes through the Ellsworth and Hashinger towers we would put a fifth traffic booth, to restrict traffic during weekdays. This spot, the best view of the campus, is where recruits of all kinds should be introduced to KU.
And here's the crux: Irving Hill Road, after rolling downhill, should angle north a bit, pass over Naismith Drive, and run up Hoch Auditoria Drive to Jayhawk Boulevard. This overpass is that second key bridge. It's the natural walking route for kids in the dorms, who currently dodge traffic and/or take a dingy tunnel by Learned. It would be the natural bus route; with it we could have a simple, trainlike "Blue Line" from Lied to the Kansas Union, drawing onto buses a lot of people like us who don't juggle schedules, routes and tickets well. In sum, separating a restricted campus drive from the street grid reserves a space for the University while still providing access from the perimeter.
Finally, not to step on toes, but we would call the whole thing Jayhawk Boulevard.
This would take time and some shuffling of equipment, gates, parking, and so forth. But surprisingly little; the system works within the traffic booths now, and it would work for an expanded area as well. A greater Jayhawk Boulevard would improve transit, recruitment, public relations, cross-campus synergies, the residential experience, and even post-game traffic. It's a simple proposal: run a road up and down the campus, run buses up and down the road. And every ten-minute ride will be like cruising through a century and a half of KU's history.
Art and Design delenda est!
Robb Campbell and Mark Hersey are Ph.D. students in environmental history at the University of Kansas. Details and maps at robertwellmancampbell.com.