As the East Campus Redevelopment Project moves through the public participation process, it is valuable to look at how other universities have integrated mixed-use facilities into their campuses. This is the second post in that series.
In August of 2003, Georgia Tech completed the much anticipated Technology Square project. This redevelopment effort was in keeping with Georgia Tech’s motto: “Progress and Service.” This campus expansion marked a paradigm shift in the way that Georgia Tech saw itself physically within the greater Atlanta community.
In the 1950s the Georgia Department of Highways constructed a six-lane freeway through the center of the city. This freeway, which would eventually carry Interstates 75 and 85, became a barrier between Tech and the dense urban neighborhood of Midtown to the east. It caused the neighborhoods on both sides to accelerate their decline in status. This decline had started with the construction of Techwood Homes, America’s first public housing project, just south of the Georgia Tech campus in 1937. Due to the barrier that the Interstate posed to both automotive and pedestrian traffic moving east-west through Atlanta, Georgia Tech’s campus expanded westward becoming, essentially, a suburban campus located in an urban environment. With the surrounding neighborhoods continuing to decline through the 1960s and 1970s, Georgia Tech cut itself off from the surrounding cityscape with tall fences and an inward orientation. The widening of the Interstate to 15 lanes in the mid-1980s worsened the division even though the Midtown neighborhood was finally beginning to become a sought-after address.
The opening of Tech Square in time for Fall Semester classes in 2003 was the first time in five decades that Georgia Tech had expanded to the east, and this shift was more than geographic; it was symbolic. By turning abandoned buildings and surface parking lots into hip sidewalk cafes and classroom space, Georgia Tech was breaking through the barriers surrounding it and committing itself to the redevelopment of Atlanta.
The Tech Square project is centered on Fifth Street, which is a major campus artery bisecting campus into northern and southern halves. It stretches for two blocks from the Interstate toward Midtown, ending at West Peachtree Street. It is linked to the main campus by an improved Fifth Street with wide sidewalks, bus stop turnouts, and bike lanes. The Georgia Department of Transportation completed work on the new Fifth Street bridge in the Winter of 2006-07, creating a new park above the Interstate on either side of Fifth. The Tech Trolley was instituted to link the main campus with Tech Square, and service on the route continues to the Midtown MARTA (Metro-type subway) Station. These shuttles run every 8 minutes throughout the day.
The development itself includes a new campus for the College of Management, the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center, the Economic Development Institute, the Georgia Tech Bookstore, and a privately-owned office building. The entire area, which currently takes up three square blocks, includes street-level retail and is now one of the busiest parts of campus. This expansion of campus has proven popular not only with students, but also with office workers in nearby Midtown skyscrapers and local condo-dwellers.
Most shocking from an Atlanta perspective is the project’s pedestrian friendliness. Tech Square won the prestigious “Golden Shoe” award for pedestrian design in 2003. Wide sidewalks exist throughout the project, which also includes on-street parking and bike lanes. A large parking deck is wrapped by buildings to disguise it from the street. This deck will eventually allow for the demolition of older decks on the main campus.
Another part of the paradigm shift which has been signified by Tech Square is Georgia Tech’s commitment to the environment. Starting with the College of Management Building, all new construction on the Georgia Tech campus will be LEED certified. By reconnecting and redeveloping the surrounding neighborhood, Georgia Tech has begun to encourage walking and transit ridership (the nearest MARTA subway station, North Avenue, is only two blocks away at Third Street). Tech has also begun to incorporate urban-style campus elements to its traditional suburban feel (despite being only two miles from the city center). The LEED certification is just the most quantitative example of this new commitment. Georgia Tech has long prided itself on being a leader in the community, and with Tech Square, it has made a large step forward.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of the project was the lack of housing. While the Hotel and College of Management keep the area busy during the day and into the evening, most shops close by 10 p.m. and afterwards the district is quite still. Tech could have kept Tech Square alive later and worked on its housing crunch by constructing dormitories on Fifth. Instead, the Institute chose to move the residential center of campus further south by purchasing the Georgia State University Village across North Avenue from Tech. There is still one parcel which has not been developed, and it could be residential in nature when construction occurs, but no plans have yet been made.
Why it Matters to Maryland
Technology Square is quite different from the proposed East Campus redevelopment in many aspects, but it also has many similarities. The biggest similarity is the demonstration of the University’s commitment to the community. College Park has long been host to UM, but this project has the potential to show that both parties realize how bound their futures are in each other. The East Campus redevelopment, like Tech Square, will help to reconnect the University symbolically and physically with the city of College Park. It will also provide a stronger physical link with the Metro station just as Tech Square did with MARTA. Most importantly, the East Campus redevelopment will bring students to College Park who otherwise wouldn’t have been there, and it will bring citizens of College Park to campus who otherwise would have never had the opportunity to interact with the campus. This project is about more than redevelopment; it’s about reconnecting two communities with a commitment to prosper together.