Monday, May 05, 2008

stop spreading out, ut

The University of Tennessee, like Knoxville, loves to spread out to the west. 50 years ago, about the same time Interstate 40 was cutting a scar across downtown, UT bulldozed a historic neighborhood the size of Fort Sanders to expand. Few people realize that Circle Park was once ringed by some of the most beautiful mansions in Knoxville. A whole vibrant neighborhood was turned into ugly brick dormitories and asphalt parking lots.

Recently, UT seemed to be reversing this destructive tendency. New buildings have filled in the parking lot gaps, which in turn have been replaced by more efficient parking garages. Unused land already in the main campus has been put to good use with new facilities that blend with The Hill's historic Collegiate Gothic Style. The Baker Center, on Cumberland Ave., is an admirable example of this.
But old habits die hard. The University is now proposing a research center on the Cherokee Farm site, just across the river from the Ag Campus. It seems that all that pristine empty land is just too tempting to the UT bigwigs.

Fortunately, there are several roadblocks in the way: 1) ancient Cherokee buildings have been uncovered near the river and 2) rich, well-conected people live across the river in Sequoya Hills and don't want their view spoiled. I'd say there's a number 3) UT already has plenty of room. The campus is thinly spread across one bend in the river- let's keep building and filling in there before we tackle another bend. Face it, UT is an urban campus, a rare thing for a southern university. That's a good thing!

Part of what makes a campus good for students and faculty is walkability. This fosters random interaction of colleagues that garners a sense of community and academic collaboration. Some of the best campuses in the world are the smallest. Many elements of UT are practically cut off from the main campus- the Medical Center and the Ag Campus come to mind. Campuses need cohesiveness. UT doesn't need another arm spread out that people have to drive to get to. And no matter how "green" they may try to make the buildings, this suburban planning model will negate any environmental contribution that they may have had. If UT is serious about becoming green, then it needs to stop spreading itself out.

UT: Use what you already have.

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