Help shape the future of Western’s great outdoors

Special to Western News

As the public consultation period on Western’s Open Space Strategy comes to a close this week, those heading up the project say they have received valuable feedback from the campus community and beyond.

Initiated following the approval of the Campus Master Plan in 2015, the Open Space Strategy aims to ensure that the campus’ outdoor spaces continue to evolve following a comprehensive vision, providing a safe and beautiful campus. Consultations with the campus community began in January and will wrap up Feb. 28.

Mike McLean, Director (Facilities Planning & Design), says in multiple sessions with groups across campus, open community meetings and through online feedback, he’s heard several recurring themes.

“We’ve been very happy and grateful for the engagement from the community on this strategy,” McLean said. “Through these consultations we’ve been able to identify some areas that need to be better addressed in the plan and answer particular questions people have about how this plan will affect the evolution of our campus.”

The strategy proposes 10 areas of focus – ‘Big Moves’ – that will help transform campus in the coming years. Some could begin in the near future; others will be longer-term projects.

McLean says the university’s plans to enhance pedestrian safety on campus by phasing out access for cars to the campus core has generated some questions about parking – especially accessible parking for those with long-term or temporary physical disabilities.

“We’ve seen overwhelming support for moving vehicles to the periphery of campus and reducing cut-through traffic on university roads, but that support also comes with questions about accessible parking and community access to special events. We’re glad to have those conversations and reassure people that we are dedicated to providing an accessible campus with barrier-free parking where required,” he explained.

Cyclists are another group that have been eager to share their thoughts on the strategy.

“We’ve put a lot of thought into enhancing our infrastructure for cyclists and that continues to evolve. We’ve heard from many who bike to campus regularly and their feedback has been extremely valuable,” McLean continued.

It’s also clear that the Western community values Western’s green spaces.

“We’ve received a lot of support for the idea of reclaiming some of the asphalt areas for added green space, adding to the tree canopy and improving existing outdoor gathering spots,” McLean said. “Western has a long history of landscape stewardship. This document continues down that path to maintain and enhance our landscaped areas, woodlots and enrich our appreciation of the river.”

Aside from addressing questions on specific areas of campus and particular pieces of infrastructure, the committee authoring the strategy is aware further work is necessary in incorporating some overarching themes.

“As the consultation period began, we identified a few areas that require a greater presence in this document, including elements from Western’s new Mental Health and Wellness Strategic Plan and Indigenous Strategic Plan,” explained Lynn Logan, Vice-President (Operations & Finance). “As we revise the document, we are really trying to bring more focus on those elements.

“We recognize Western’s beautiful campus is one of our most significant assets and this plan is required to ensure that it continues to evolve in a way that best allows the campus community to thrive and to attract the brightest students and faculty from across Canada and around the world. That is why we welcome the community’s thoughts on this. They can only make it better.”