A Green Theme for the Big Red Cornell Master Plan
by David Cutter, ASLA

While “green” buildings and materials are hot topics in today’s magazines and news media, how we plan our campuses, and where we place our buildings are perhaps of greater importance in our quest for long-term sustainability.

Cornell University’s Campus Planning Office, in conjunction with a consulting team led by Urban Strategies Inc. of Toronto, is currently completing the “Cornell Master Plan” (CMP) addressing all facets of the physical campus, includ¬ing the way Cornell uses its land, the arrangement and scale of buildings, the nature and func¬tion of the landscape, the transportation network, the utility systems, and the university’s sustainability goals. The university has recently approved: “Part 1: Overall Plan,” and is finalizing: “Part 2: Landscape Design Guidelines and Precinct Plans,” which will guide the campus’s physical development over the next 30 years. University-wide comprehensive planning can help a great deal in achieving long-term sustainability through special emphasis on the following areas:

Land Use and Development 

Good land use planning creates operational efficiencies, good aesthetics, and a diversity of uses and activities on a campus. Among considerations are to:
• Assess long-term impacts of immediate project decisions on the entire campus community, including resource and operational costs.
• Include a diverse mix of uses and activities that are easily accessible to all members of the university community to create a stimulating, safe pedestrian-friendly environment.
• Cluster infrastructure while planning for new uses to provide greater efficiencies in operation and maintenance.


Land use and transportation planning are linked and can substantially affect long-term use of resources across the university. Planners should:
• Link transportation with campus-wide and regional planning to strengthen Cornell’s travel demand management strategy and transportation efficiencies.
• Integrate landscape with transportation networks on the pedestrian campus.


Cornell’s landscape and natural setting are its most memorable characteristics. Landscape needs to be viewed as a campus-wide system, not limited areas of green around buildings. It is important to:
• Understand that landscape and open spaces at Cornell are a learning environment and complement academic spaces within buildings.
• Create an awareness of natural resources, and maximize protection of and access to Cornell’s unique natural features.

Collaborative Stakeholder Involvement

A collaborative planning process that is based upon consensus and addresses the needs of all stakeholders, ensures development that is responsive to the users and to the university as a whole. This process requires that planners:
• Understand everyone’s impact on the environment and their stake in it while making decisions on individual projects as well as campus-wide elements.
• Encourage shared responsibility for the campus environment.

David Cutter, ASLA, is the Campus Landscape Architect at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and can be reached at: dmc86@cornell.edu.

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