Universities are increasingly playing an active role in the future of their host towns was one of the outcomes from an international conference held by the University of Northampton last week.
The Urban University conference took place at the Guildhall in Northampton on 2 and 3 July and was organised by the Collaborative Centre for the Built Environment (CCBE) at the University of Northampton as part of the University Town Northampton Project (UTN). Speakers from the UK and European universities presented examples of universities opening up their doors to local communities and actively engaging in civic life.
In European cities and UK towns, universities are helping to regenerate and revitalise town centres by imaginative campus design, open access to campus buildings, and by forging links to local economic, cultural and social life. Examples presented by Wendy Cukier from Ryerson University in Canada, Henk Bouwman from Urban Impuls in the Netherlands and Emma Read Källblad from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden provided fascinating insights into the different ways Higher Educational institutions make a difference in their locations.
Architects for the University of Northampton’s new town centre campus explained how their design aims to integrate the University with the town. There will be public access to University facilities such as the library and sports buildings, a through bus route, and public rights of way along the riverside and through the site linking the town centre with Delapre Abbey.
Professor John Goddard from the University of Newcastle talked about universities as ‘anchor institutions’ in towns and cities, while Professor Robin Hambleton from the University of West of England said that universities could be game changers in place making in an increasingly globalised world.
The education role of universities as a pathway for local people to move into Higher Education was emphasised by Christina Devecchi of the School of Education at the University of Northampton. Several speakers emphasised how much the student experience was related to their experience of the town and that a positive sense of the town is vital to attracting new students.
Campus design also has implications for nature conservation. Professor Jeff Ollerton from the University of Northampton stressed that the new campus on the riverside must protect biodiversity and natural habitats.
Sabine Coady Schaebitz, Director of the CCBE, commented, “The Urban University is a goal of many universities in the new era of Higher Education and town development. With our partners in the County Council and the Borough Council, we are aiming for the highest quality of campus design and new thinking in university and town collaboration.”