This past weekend, Rutgers hosted both the annual Rutgers Day festivities along with an APA day for incoming freshmen. Visitors to the College Avenue campus were exposed to the sight of heavy construction along Seminary Place and Lot 8. These projects are a sign of progress for a campus that has not seen improvements since 1961. However, Rutgers has an opportunity to seize the momentum and continue the redevelopment of College Avenue to make it not only look the part as the state university of New Jersey, but to also bring together the students and surrounding community in a sustainable manner. Ideally, emphasis could be placed upon the River Dorms and Deiner Park which are in dire need of a makeover.
Deiner Park is currently underutilized
One of the River Dorms, Campbell Hall
Redesigning the River Dorm area is a complex process that encompasses many different elements. First and foremost, the buildings replacing the existing dorms will need to serve a variety of uses. This is important because it reduces the need to create other buildings (which can lead to sprawl) and helps give the area a more ‘central’ feel that will facilitate foot traffic. Next, a redesign should be focused on creating retail space on the ground floor of the new buildings. The retail space will serve as an extension to the vibrant downtown of New Brunswick and will benefit local businesses through more patrons. In addition to offering the necessary space for residents of the new River Dorms (ideally a diversified group), the redesign will feature a large green space that takes advantage of the proximity to the Raritan River. In much the same way that Central Park serves as a connection to nature within the city, the emphasis on the river will offer a space for peace and relaxation.
The Gulch in Nashville, TN offers an example of a walkable and vibrant downtown
By incorporating elements of smart growth in a potential redesign of the River Dorms and Deiner Park, a more centralized and walkable area can be created along George Street. This project will connect downtown New Brunswick with the University and make a cohesive environment that is attractive for all members of the community. The mixed use buildings that will replace the current River Dorms will offer retail space on the bottom that can also be filled by cafes and restaurants (similar to Henry’s Diner). By adding additional food options for the community to take advantage of, this redevelopment will increase diversity and accessibility of healthy food. Finally, the mixed residents (students, families, working professionals, and others) will create a more heterogeneous community that can fully take advantage of the buildings and resources instead of only during the academic year.
While I realize how ambitious such a plan appears to be, I think that the current construction and attention paid to the College Avenue campus offers positive momentum to support an additional project. The suggestions laid out for a redesign of the River Dorm and Deiner Park area realize the necessity to create a sustainable environment and the potential opportunities available to both the University and surrounding community.