Robert Wellman Campbell
University of Kansas, Department of History
unpublished article on campus landscape
January 2002

The Vision Thing

The most recent of five campus plans for the University of Kansas was written in the mid-1990s and was, in some ways, a reflection of its times. It was prompted by many things, but primarily by a 1992 review of the academic program, including its space needs, and by the fact that a plan had not been done since 1972. Almost five years and fifty named contributors went into the 120-page report released in 1997. We have no image here showing the campus envisioned in the plan, because there was no such image, because there was no such vision. The five-year process was actually intended to create a framework for future planning, not an actual plan. The result was a document resisting easy contradiction, comprehension, or parody.

There was little in the plan about new buildings, because the University needed renovation much more than construction, and because any new buildings would entail individual "project planning." But there was discussion of a new parking garage by the Kansas Union, as well as adding the Dole Institute, a library, and more support buildings to the West Campus. There was also a clear intent to raze several annexes from the Second World War to free up space in the core campus.

Most headlines coming out of the plan were not about buildings, though, but how people would drive, ride, park and walk their way to them. This plan contributed to the perennial debate over transportation, including everything from entry points to escalators, buses to bikes, and of course parking complaints. It recommended expanding the on-campus traffic restrictions during the academic day; Sunnyside Avenue and Memorial Drive would become closed behind traffic-control booths as Jayhawk Boulevard was already, and Jayhawk Boulevard would be further restricted to bikes and one-way buses.

But the 1997 report had more principles and observations than specific prescriptions. Space permits only a few examples here. Parking should be managed, among other considerations, according to the need of "ranking administrative officers . . . for quick access to automobiles." Land acquisitions should be informed by "[t]he need for sound structures that will fulfill specific needs." "Safety concerns as well as accessibility concerns should inform the management of vehicle access to campus." In all, the report read like an elaborate Powerpoint presentation riddled with bullet lists, including:

Many of these "action items" were to develop more plans. In the same decade George Bush praised Bill Clinton for having more solutions than the country had problems, KU generated more than 300 of these principles, factors, elements and objectives for a campus of about 120 buildings.

This plan may have reflected its time in other ways as well. It shows a green streak in the proposed bike lanes and the preserved West Campus trails. But it never spoke of population limits, rather of technological accommodations. It envisioned Watson library serving partly "as an electronic media information center." It was anti-authoritarian in a cautiously sensitive way; the sections devoted to the planning process stressed broad involvement of campus constituencies, and consensual values rather than top-down decisions. In fact, the planners publicly wished for more student input.

Between the plans of 1972 and 1997, the average American grew about six years older. More than anything, the 1997 plan communicates a sense of institutional maturity within this aging society. "People movers" such as elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks for long distances and steep slopes were not just an option to consider, but simply "a necessity." Security was a major concern. There was a preoccupation with "wear and tear," as with the landscaping around Wescoe Hall, and with renovation and rejuvenation in general. The book declared itself, right on the cover, "A Framework for Campus Renewal."

Chancellor Robert Hemenway got the final word in his preface, and boiled it all down. He added two more lists, of current and future building projects which amounted to about a quarter of a billion dollars. He stated two principles in bold caps, to which he would adhere, and which were most often quoted:

[Source notes: The Campus Plan, the University of Kansas: a Framework for Campus Renewal and Physical Development (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas, 1997). UDK 18 September 1995, 20 September 1995, 22 September 1995, 5 October 1995, 11 September 1997, 24 September 1997. USA Today, 6 December 2001.]