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"Rethinking the First UC Campus and Designing the Tenth at Merced"
February 10, 2000

Christopher Adams

I have a few slides. They are more in the nature of background slides than slides that will have to be talked to. And so when the slides begin, I would ask that the lights up above us don't go out, if it's possible. Because I'm afraid that if the lights above us go out that some of the rest of us may go out as well considering the lateness of the hour. If there's any possible way of turning those back on again.

I'm going to stress three themes in my introduction this afternoon, which I think characterize planning of the new University of California campus at Merced. These are personal views, but since the founding chancellor is here, as well as a University Planner involved in the process from the beginning and a planning consultant who has been involved for a very long time, there will be ample opportunity for others to correct me. My three themes are environmental awareness, community context, and the network.

I'll begin with environmental awareness. What I mean by this is that from the beginning of the site selection process, everyone involved has been aware of environmental issues--not necessarily sympathetic to them, perhaps only grudgingly acknowledging them. But in any case, not ignoring them. I think if you look back at the history of planning the Berkeley campus, you will find that the early response to the natural environment was primarily exploitive, as was characteristic of most 19th century development. Strawberry Canyon was acquired initially to ensure a source of water. Soon it was also treated in its lower reaches as a sewer. Although Fredrick Law Olmsted recognized the creek as a significant visual resource, as you noticed in the drawings that were in the first case outside, it was not until the 1970's that the creek's hydrology and biology were studied in ways which would be basic to any plan at the Berkeley site if it were being started from scratch today.

The Merced site was selected after a long search that went from an initial list of over 80 to a final three. This slide is one which was shown to the regents late in that site selection process when we were down to I think maybe eight. One of the three sites fell out largely as a result of the findings of the EIR, and the final decision was based on the certainty of land and water availability in Merced. The site will consist of 2,000 acres being donated by a charitable trust, which owns a 7,000-acre ranch in the rolling hills which border the San Joaquin Valley. The site is here, the ranch goes around here. And there's an additional ranch of 3,000 acres which is part of our joint planning efforts.

Unlike the flat Valley floor where agricultural operations have altered the landscape more than in any other part of California, the site is much as it was 150 years ago. Except for cattle grazing, it has never been exploited for other uses, as far as we can tell. Unlike Berkeley, it has no creeks. What it does have are vernal pools, which are ponds formed by winter rains over hard pan soils. Because of the differences in soils and drainage, the pools stand in sharp contrast to the grasslands around them. In the spring, plants in these pools flower in rings as the waters recede and different species predominate. In a wet winter such as the El Nino of two years ago, the flowering vernal pools were spectacular, an ephemeral natural phenomenon that I would compare to the fall leaves of New England. The pools are also inhabited by tiny shrimp, which hatch, breed and lay their eggs during the brief period of inundation. The eggs or cysts fall to the bottom of the pool where they can remain in the dry soil for several years until enough rain falls to fill the pools up again.

The species variation created by these pools is fascinating to biologists, and several of the plants and crustaceans have been identified as rare or endangered. A major task of our planning of the campus and its surroundings will be to develop strategies by which development and preservation can co-exist. Options include preservation of selected areas, restoration or replication of pools, or acquisition of easements in other areas in the region. Environmental concerns will not stop there. The new campus will approach building technology in ways that conserve and reuse resources, whether in terms of building materials or mechanical systems.

My second theme is community context. In studying the plans made for the Hearst competition, I find it fascinating that most of them acknowledge links to the city that would eventually surround the campus, while campus plans of the post-War era often did not. It is often been noticed that Emile Bénard's winning plan continued the axis of the existing University Avenue, which John Galen Howard shifted so that it would align with the Golden Gate. You may have noticed in the Olmsted-Shepley-Bullfinch plan made for Stanford some years earlier on a site as removed from an existing town as the future Merced is from its existing town that the acknowledgment of residential streets was acknowledged as they fanned out from the original clause. How different was the approach of much post-war planning when campuses were planned almost in total isolation from their surroundings, except for a connecting road. Consider the early plans for UC San Diego, where the community plan shows a campus as a blank hole in a donut, and the campus plan essentially shows nothing of the surrounding community.

At Merced, we are studying carefully how campuses such as Chico State, the Claremont Colleges, which have been mentioned earlier by Stefanos Polyzoides and others, and Berkeley itself relate to the town next door. There are many reasons for this. First, a thriving campus town will be enriched by and itself help enrich the campus. Second, it will help make a pedestrian community. Think of how easy it is for a student to buy a book, a latte, or a pair of running shoes in each of the communities I just mentioned. Think how easy it is for many residents of these towns to walk, not drive, to the campus art gallery or theater. Finally, a town can provide many of things that we tend to think of as campus functions, but which might be as effectively provided in other ways. Does a campus need to have a fitness facility? Perhaps it would be cheaper and easier to make a deal with 24-Hour Nautilus or Gold's Gym. Does the campus need to provide a huge percent of student housing, or can a local developer in town do better?

Our Merced challenge is less to figure out what our campus's town interfaces will look like, than to figure out how to make it happen. Irvine represented an attempt to link town and campus, but at Irvine the campus and the surrounding town were planned by one autocratic architect, with his clients, a strong chancellor and a family-owned land company. Even if a Bill Pereira were to be found today, it is doubtful if today's citizens would grant him and his clients carte blanche to proceed. The reason is because of the growth of community activism. The idea of listening to your neighbor's concerns and even learning from their comments and improving their comments and improving your plan is somewhat new to the University of California.

We were pushed in part by the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970, which mandated public involvement, but the phenomenon was national and as much a product of people like Jane Jacobs as it was the environmentalists. So far in Merced, I can say that citizen input has only been positive. If you go on a little further you'll see an example of some citizen input. We have learned immeasurably every time we have opened the process; the example: a student--and I am sure this student had not been to Irvine, has designed this in Irvine.

My third theme is that of network. This word like environmentalism risks becoming a cliché of our new century. But universities have been networked for a very long time. I remember a paper that Mel Weber wrote in the 60's debunking the concept of neighborhood, by showing how the average person, read: average professor, had contacts nation or worldwide. It is just that now technology permits a more efficient way of networking. Long before a spade of earth is turned on the site, we will have instructional centers in other parts of the San Joaquin Valley wired to each other and to our existing campuses. Our first research initiative, the Sierra Nevada Research Institute will link researchers at several campuses and research at several parts of the Sierra Nevada and the Valley.

It is unclear how these networks will impact the physical form of the new campus, but I will make some guesses. First, some housing may be more like a motel than a dorm. The Internet will permit classes for professional training, re-entry students and others to be directed to students at home, who have a need only for an occasional weekend or week-long on-campus session.

Second, Central Administrative Services may be much smaller. Student Services, such as registration, bill-paying, student jobs and so forth can already be put on-line, significantly reducing the need for a central location. Human Resources, Purchasing and other Housekeeping functions can be put on-line or even contracted to outside vendors. As Carol has said, the library may be a very different place or places, in contrast to the central and imposing building of a traditional campus. It would be foolish, however, to assume too much of the impact of technology. UC has a traditional market niche as the premier public sector provider of full-time residential undergraduate education in California. We have all learned to value the residential experience for good reason. I don't think UC Merced will turn its back on that market. And to the extent that the needs of these students dictate familiar campus forms, I expect that we will see them.

With my three themes which have guided Merced so far, in my opinion: environmental awareness, community context, and the network, I'll pass onto Judy Chess. Thank you.

Christopher Adams is a city planner and architect who has practiced in Europe, Canada, and the United States. Much of his career has been at the Office of the President of the University of California where he at one time was Director of Long Range Planning. He has been involved in the search for UC’s tenth campus site from inception of the process in 1988 until its selection in 1995, and he has continued to be involved in planning the new campus and the community which will surround it. On the day of this Symposium his office moved officially to Merced where he will be the Campus Planner. He has degrees from Stanford and Berkeley. He is a long time resident of Berkeley, where he has been active in architectural preservation and community planning activities.


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