Office of the President

Andrew Petter, President and Vice-Chancellor

Petter's Perspective: Notes from the President


Interaction, integration, mixed use: a recipe for engagement

February 08, 2012

What’s the relationship between innovative urban development and SFU’s vision of being an engaged university?  That’s the question I asked myself while getting ready to speak at the Cities Summit last week.

I was part of a panel on future cities looking at new ways to create thriving, affordable urban neighborhoods. Such forecasting is difficult, especially in a region famous for setting development trends.

I’ve always believed, however, that one of the best ways to meet the challenges of the future is to build upon what’s already good.

That’s the approach we pursued with the envision>SFU process: reveal the best of SFU and then harness those qualities to make the university even better.

SFU, we found, is an institution known for engaging students, engaging research and engaging communities. We then forged a strategic vision that builds on these strengths to realize the benefits that can flow from their dynamic interaction.

By working to integrate education, research and community engagement, SFU’s vision seeks to ensure that everyone, from the greenest undergraduate student to the most accomplished faculty researcher, is contributing to and benefiting from their interactions with one another, and with the external communities we serve.

As I reflected on this, it dawned on me that this approach has much in common with what is known in planning circles as Vancouverism–a model that builds vibrant and sustainable communities by integrating mixed uses into a well-functioning whole. Moreover, SFU’s own commitment to mixed use has contributed significantly to Vancouverism.

This is best illustrated by architect Bing Thom’s familiar reference to situating a university above a shopping mall as an example of this movement. The university, of course, is SFU. Our Surrey campus was recently applauded by the renowned architectural critic Witold Rybczynski for “meeting the challenge of the coming decade,” which he identified as “making the suburbs more urban; that is, making them denser and creating active, concentrated, walkable town centers.”

The same can be said of UniverCity on Burnaby Mountain, which has rightfully been hailed as a model of sustainability, a new development that is creating an integrated community alongside what was previously an isolated commuter campus.

And then there is SFU’s first foray into urban engagement: our growing, increasingly diverse, downtown Vancouver campus that the Vancouver Sun proclaimed the “intellectual heart of the city.”

Interaction, integration, mixed use:  just as these elements have enabled planners in Metro Vancouver to better meet citizens’ needs, they can also enable SFU–as an engaged university–to better meet the needs of students, researchers and the communities we serve.

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