The idea of a self-contained community for learning, with places to exchange ideas in a tailor-made setting, was one of the great inventions of a young American republic. Campuses can create an inherent sense of community by offering many ways for people to interact with each other in the spaces between buildings. To create this interaction, campuses need to provide for a range of activities and public spaces that are supportive to each other, as well as the social and emotional needs of the people who live and work there.  The most successful campuses think as much about meeting these needs as expanding their facilities.

Within any campus, there should be at least ten dynamic places that attract people. This concept is what PPS calls “The Power of Ten.” Within each place, there should be at least ten things to do, such as waiting, meeting, eating, reading, playing, and so on. Such places bridge the gap between the distinct and diverse communities within the campus and can be the settings for community gatherings, residential life, or academic discussions, if they provide a mix of public, private, educational, retail and cultural amenities.


Many of the issues facing institutions today are broader than the facility itself. For example, they need to create a campus environment that attracts “customers” and that results in a positive experience. In the case of academic institutions, it is important that the students remain committed to the institution in the future, not only for emotional and educational reasons but also for financial ones. Public spaces are critical in establishing the memories that create this commitment.

PPS examines the issues outlined below in order to improve the way a campus functions and is perceived by both its users and the neighboring community.  We use a Placemaking process to provide a framework for staff, students, faculty, and other stakeholders to identify issues, specific problems and potential solutions related to creating a better campus environment. PPS develops these into concepts used to guide future improvements and development. Some key areas of concern are:

Creating successful gathering places for campus life: How can campus spaces create a better sense of place create the social life that binds a community in a common experience? Do the location and condition of the campus “amenities” support or hinder use of the campus? PPS analyzes a range of activities and events occurring on campus. By interviewing people and observing activities in different areas, PPS can develop recommendations and designs that meet users’ needs more effectively. The goal is to identify general and specific uses for the public areas of the campus. After analyzing existing conditions and opportunities and developing a master program, PPS develops design recommendations for areas such as plazas, courtyards, and other major campus public spaces.

Interfacing with the broader community: We facilitate workshops that bring the town and gown communities together to envision a better quality interface where the campus and town edges meet and overlap. How an institution and its campus interface with the surrounding neighborhoods is critical in creating a comfortable and functional campus environment.  Where the campus and adjacent neighborhood meet or overlap should be a key area of focus so that the institution is part of a broader community. If they are not addressed these “edges” or transition space such as roads, parking lots, delivery areas, etc. will be the places that people and that become barriers rather than links to the surrounding neighborhood.

Campus Land Uses: Do existing land uses support activity in the spaces that surround them? What is the relationship between the internal and external uses of existing facilities? PPS looks at the way current land uses are affecting the use of and activity on the campus. PPS also reviews proposed plans to see that anticipated land uses are compatible with existing uses, both architecturally and functionally, and that these new uses encourage an active campus life and relate, where possible, to the nearby city.

Maintaining a secure and safe environment: A campus is a public environment that has a unique set of safety problems that are both real and perceived.  Perceptions are as important as real security issues and must be addressed. These issues also relate to a variety of factors that starts with access (does the campus have a good pedestrian environment so that people can safely walk?) and extends to other issues such as how ground floor of buildings are designed so the there are “eyes on the street”  rather than blank walls adjacent to public spaces and walkways, lighting of the places that people tend to use after dark, the presence of “destinations” so that people have places to go or pass through in the evening that have people using them. PPS focuses on elements such as the design of the space, maintenance, access, and levels of activity in order to create an environment in which people feel secure.

Providing accessibility to the institution and maintaining circulation within it: The ability for pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles to move easily and safely to and through the campus is one of the most important factors for the efficient function of institutions. In academic institutions students need to move between classes, at medical centers emergency vehicles must have efficient routes and employees, visitors and patients need an environment where they can walk freely and comfortably. The location of parking facilities, ease of taking transit or bicycling as an option to driving all must be considered.

Wayfinding and information systems: Campus environments are complex settings that are often confusing to visitors and residents alike. Signage and information systems that are clear and properly located make it possible for users to find their way around a campus quickly and easily. Understanding what information is needed and where it should be located is an issue that must be addressed in public spaces in order to prevent confusion of employees, students and visitors.

Our Approach to Campuses was last modified: March 6th, 2012 by Project for Public Spaces