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Land-Use Planning

Effective land-use planning generates enduring aesthetics, allows a variety of activities on campus, creates operational efficiencies, and saves resources and energy.

The following links go to sections that describe how land-use planning may fit into your climate action plans.

To be truly sustainable, land-use planning should be responsive to the needs of all members of the community and set an example for sustainable development. You can read about how this works in 12 Steps to Sustainable Campus Planning, which is published online by Eastern Connecticut State University Green Campus Initiative.

Considerations for Land Use Planning

Before undertaking land-use planning project, a research campus should ask these questions:

Expansion Planned

Is land-use planning right for your campus?
  • Are you planning a major expansion or building a new campus?
  • Is your long-term goal to be climate neutral?

The best time to integrate sustainable design, optimize building orientation, thoughtfully plan transportation, and integrate energy supply and delivery systems is when you are expanding an existing or developing a greenfield campus.

Plan for Climate Neutrality

A land-use plan can help reduce carbon emissions from commuters, by bringing them within walking and biking distance of the core campus. A sustainable land-use plan encourages mixed-use development—including residential and commercial areas—at the campus margins to reduce commuting.

Leading Example: University of California, Merced

Designing a new campus is a luxury, and the planners of the University of California (UC), Merced campus took advantage of this rare opportunity. The planning goals expressed in the UC Merced Long Range Development Plan include sustainability and express a desire for the university to become model of environmental stewardship.

The plan, which phases in new "modules" over a number of years, includes the following features:

  • Pedestrian friendly

    Although the campus is relatively large (815 acres), its core is compact and designed to encourage walking and biking. Many walkways are shaded with building overhangs to shelter pedestrians from the hot California sun. Service roads are located at the perimeter to minimize traffic in the campus core.

  • Nearby housing and transportation

    An adjacent University Community includes mixed uses: housing, a research and development "Gateway" district, a performing arts center, and commercial businesses. Mixed-use "Main Streets" bring diverse activities into the heart of the campus. There is a plan for a regional, multimodal transit center.

  • Low-energy design

    The siting and orientation of each building consider energy impact. For example, many buildings are oriented east to west to allow maximum production from rooftop solar energy systems. Distributed energy centers and a 2-million gallon central chilled water storage tank allow buildings to cool using electricity produced during off-peak hours.

Logo of the University of California, Merced Photo of a large, four-story commercial building taken at dusk with its lights on and with a sidewalk and xeriscape yard in the foreground.

The UC Merced Science and Engineering Building is LEED Gold certified. Labs21 has a pilot partnership with the university to monitor energy consumption. It uses extensive sensors and data collection at this and several other UC Merced buildings to ensure they meet benchmark goals.
Courtesy of UC Merced

On October 1, 2009, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that UC Merced was the recipient of the prestigious Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in the comprehensive land-use planning category.

At the time of the award, the campus already boasted six buildings with LEED Gold certification (for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the U.S. Green Buildings Council and another with LEED Silver. Four additional buildings are under construction to exceed LEED Gold standards.

One third of the buildings on the UC Merced campus contain laboratories, energy-intensive buildings that increase the challenges of achieving low-energy goals. Campus planners used benchmark goals of reducing peak demand in addition to decreasing annual energy consumption. In contrast, performance goals based on standards such as California Title 24 focus almost entirely on annual energy consumption.

"We have a goal that buildings consume half the energy and demand of other university buildings in California," says John Elliot, UC Merced Manager of Engineering, Energy, and Sustainability Facilities. He says the benchmarks are based on data from other campuses across the state. The first set of buildings was designed to 80% of this benchmark when the campus opened in 2005. The second set, under construction in 2009, is designed to 65% of the benchmark. The next phase aims at 50%. You can read a paper about the UC Merced experience in setting its benchmark goals published by the UC California Institute for Energy Efficiency (PDF 165 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

The following list gives examples of sustainable campus master plans. Some of these documents are viewable in Adobe PDF format. Download Adobe Reader.