Campus landscaping is in desperate need of improvement
I walk a lot. For the past few years, my average step count has hovered near 20,000 per day. When I started my MBA program at the Brandeis International Business School (IBS) last fall, I vowed that I would not change this good habit, and I prioritized it over many other things. Walking helps me with so many things, so I decided that taking walks would be the best way to familiarize myself with the campus as well.
Mind you, I’m from California. When I used to walk there, I trudged across flat, long stretches of roads and sidewalks, with nary a pedestrian in sight. I was the queen of my domain. By contrast, the sidewalks of Brandeis, especially those that criss-cross the interior of the campus, were virtually impassable between classes. So I decided to walk only while classes were in session, avoiding the sidewalk traffic delays, and to stick to the campus loop. To get to this loop from the International Business School, I had to take the path up the hill, past the art buildings and the Spingold Theater Center. Each time I took this one and only path, I had to dodge the service trucks, golf carts, acorns, twigs, leaves and every other piece of yard rubbish, but at least this road was wide. Crossing the grass in front of the theater building, the sidewalk got so narrow, I wound up taking to walking on the grass to pass others, which then led me to getting my shoes stuck in the mud on more than one occasion.
I also had to cross the street. This proved more treacherous than the leaves that nearly caused me to fall due to a sudden rain storm (is there any other kind?) because they became so slippery once wet — just like stepping on a banana peel in a comic strip. Many drivers seemed oblivious to my pedestrian plight. The bold white hash marks were largely missing or were just ignored outright by the vehicles. Eventually, I made it across without being hit.
I took each step gingerly because most sidewalks were uneven. and began to wonder why something had not been done to smooth the walkways or make the stone retaining walls more pedestrian friendly. Nowhere did I see any inviting Adirondack chairs, bench seating arrangements (other than at the shuttle stops) or even a water fountain. Where was the handy-dandy directional signage? I wondered what those with mobility challenges did when faced with these unfriendly landscaping choices.
At some points, I had to duck under low-hanging tree limbs not to get mauled. Despite my struggles, I did finally make it back to the business school not too banged up, but I wondered a lot about the landscaping. Who was in charge of it, and why was care not taken to at least clear paths for pedestrians? I do love the rustic look of the IBS landscape as much as the next hiker, but I much prefer it when I’m actually hiking in the woods, not on a suburban campus. Some of the sets of steps I encountered (near the Castle and at the theater building) were almost like rotting teeth that crumbled as I stepped on them. In my head, I compiled a laundry list of things that could be improved with just a little investment in better landscape architecture.
I don't mean to compare this to the other campus in Waltham, or to campuses in the greater Boston area, but the differences are too many to ignore. I read the facilities guide of Brandeis in comparison to other schools that shall remain unnamed, and, well, they even had better web sites talking about their superior landscaping!
To wit, until the summer, one took one’s life into one’s own hands just to visit the statue of Justice Louis D. Brandeis. Most of the space around the chapels isn't even pedestrian friendly; instead it is more like a water-logged wasteland. Walk around the moat and try not tripping over a carpenter ant. Better yet, walk along the backside of a building without proper illumination and see if that feels safe. And where is there any reasonable place to sit along even the most common of paths cutting a wide swath down the middle of campus? Where is the serenity promised by the many statues and works of art punctuating the landscape with their plaques?
I’m not saying I’m an expert, but I have had to do some landscape maintenance for my parents back in California. From what I can see walking around, the trees have rarely been pruned, the hedges left unclipped and even the sod strips I saw hastily thrown down were not watered properly to have them take root. Edward Scissorhands would be horrified. Again, no need to turn things into a topiary garden, but if I can’t get to a reflection area to do proper reflecting (due to over-hedge or a sticks and stones styled pathway), then what’s the point of a reflection area? Nevermind that there's no place to sit to even begin the reflection process. Don’t even get me started on the mulchification of the campus. Without properly preparing the soil, mulch usually just gets washed downhill, and I don’t need to tell anyone here about the “uphill in both directions” campus layout. I’m still confused as to why no one took a backhoe or excavator to the campus to even it out a bit. If the lovely wooded areas are inaccessible, it tends to limit my ability to enjoy them.
I understand the constraints of working within a budget, and I’m certain Brandeis has highly trained arborists and landscape architects on retainer promoting the rustic, back-to-nature aesthetic, but I would be glad to help with some sweeping and tree pruning here and there to simply …well… spruce up the place! I just need to borrow a few tools.