Students plan West Campus

West Campus development plans are being made again— this time, by students.

Two landscape management courses in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies are developing plans this semester to make West Campus — Yale’s burgeoning site in West Haven for science research and the arts — more integrated with the natural lands surrounding it. The grounds have changed relatively little since the pharmaceutical company Bayer HealthCare sold the campus to Yale in 2007, but students are aiming to make the campus more functional and integrated with the natural environment around it, said professors Alexander Felson and Mark Ashton, who teach the classes.

The classes, titled “Ecological Urbanism” and “Management Plans for Protected Areas,” focus on landscape management while allowing students to provide administrators with feedback on this rapidly expanding portion of the campus. “Ecological Urbanism” is using West Campus as a “living laboratory” to test ideas related to sustainability and land management, Felson said.

The classes come as West Campus administrators are deciding to make major changes to the site, such as better utilizing the natural lands around developed areas of campus for educational purposes, said Michael Donoghue, vice president for West Campus planning and program development.

Alexander Felson
Two Environment School courses have been developing plans for improving West Campus.
Alexander Felson
Two Environment School courses have been developing plans for improving West Campus.

Donoghue, who is acting as one of the clients for each course, said he requested that the students focus on specific issues, such as water runoff from the highways and noise control.

“It would be really fun to get that input and then think which ones can we realistically implement soon and which ones are more long-term projects,” he said.

Felson, whose course “Ecological Urbanism” is cross-referenced in the School of Architecture and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, said he decided to focus the class on West Campus for the first time this year because it seemed like a good opportunity to train students.

“My work is to meld ecological research experiments with urban design,” Felson said.

Architecture and environmental studies students are collaborating, Felson said, on design experiments to solve the campus’ many short-term problems. Students chose from several topics including food generation and food waste, parking, noise control, and circulation and paths, Felson said.

Similarly, Mark Ashton’s “Management Plans for Protected Areas” is focusing specifically on using West Campus’s surrounding woodlands for education purposes.

Clients usually approach Ashton to have their properties included in his course, he said. This year, West Campus is one of three properties for which students will develop management plans.

Ashton’s course requires more direct observation and research than Felson’s course, which is more conceptual, Max Piana FES ’11, a student in both courses, said. His own personal project revolves around storm management and parking lot space on West Campus.

“We’re assessing the complete property in terms of soils, vegetation, wildlife habitat; students will be developing recommendations based on the stakeholder’s values,” Ashton said.

Piana said it has been interesting to look at the campus from two different perspectives. He spends about 10 hours each week on site, so that he can conceptualize potential projects for the courses, he said.

Though students are still collecting information about the space, Piana said he is excited at the opportunity to develop the “under-utilized” campus.

“It’s kind of an open court in terms of where it can go,” he said.

Students from each class will present their ideas to West Campus administrators in mid-December.

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