Planning Framework

“…a metropolitan university is an integral part of its region, shaped by its community even as it works with its community to shape their joint future.”

—UALR: A Metropolitan University
http://ualr.edu/chancellor/metropolitan.asp

Since 1990, UALR has been a member of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities. UALR’s commitment to use its resources to address the needs of the region through teaching, research, and professional service is central to the University’s identity and mission.

Planning for UALR, therefore, reached beyond the literal confines of the campus and coordinated closely with other university and community planning efforts—notably the UALR strategic plan and planning for the University District, the 24-square-mile area that surrounds the campus. The goals and recommendations for the physical development of the campus contained within this report were developed with a clear understanding of UALR’s connection and responsibility to the region.

History of the Institution

UALR is a public institution located in central Arkansas, in the state’s most populous and capital city. The Little Rock metropolitan region—with its rich history, diverse population, and beautiful natural landscape—is the economic, political, and cultural hub of the state. The region occupies a varied geographic area with a diversity of built and natural environments. Little Rock’s vibrant downtown and revitalized River Market District sit atop a bluff that hugs the Arkansas River. Urban and exurban neighborhoods, rich in historic architecture and charm, extend westward from the river across the region’s gently rolling hills. A wealth of large parks and natural landscape features are found throughout the region—from historic MacArthur Park, to the vast acres of green space and recreational resources that make up War Memorial Park, to the Fourche Creek Wetlands, the largest urban wetlands found in the U.S.

Like the region, UALR has a rich history. First chartered in 1927 by the City’s Board of Education as the Little Rock Junior College, it received accreditation in 1929 from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. In 1949, the institution moved to its current location in southwest Little Rock onto lands donated by Raymond Rebsamen, a local businessman. The wooded campus site sits between Arkansas’s rolling hills and flat pinelands. Characteristics of both these geographic regions are still evident today and provide the distinct landscape that is part of the campus identity.

UALR Presidents and Chancellors
Presidents include
R.C. Hall, 1927-1930
John A. Larson, 1930-1950
Granville Davis, 1950-1954
E.Q. Brothers, acting president 1954-1956
Carey V. Stabler, 1956-1969
Chancellors include
Carey V. Stabler, 1969-1972
James H. Fribourgh, acting 1972-1973, 1982
G. Robert Ross, 1973-1982
James H. Young, 1982-1992
Charles E. Hathaway, 1993-2002
Joel E. Anderson, 2003-present

Renamed Little Rock University in 1957, this now independent and privately supported institution began offering 4-year degree programs. Over a decade later, in 1969, it merged into the University of Arkansas System to become University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Rapid growth followed, and by fall 2004, the University’s total enrollment had expanded to almost 12,000 students with 514 full-time faculty, offering 58 undergraduate majors and 37 graduate and 6 doctoral programs, including a juris doctoral degree. Annual enrollment increased an average of 1.9 percent between 1998 and 2004, with a total increase of 12 percent. Full-time equivalent (FTE) students currently make up approximately 70 percent of enrollment, with a 2.5 percent annual increase since 1998. UALR is a member of the Sun Belt Conference and competes in thirteen NCAA Division I-AAA sports.

Figure II-2: Historic campus planFigure II-2: Historic campus plan

Background

In 2003, the University embarked on a period of reassessment and renewal brought about in large measure by the inauguration of a new chancellor. As part of that process, UALR undertook the Strategic Planning Initiative to examine its position and chart a new course for the future. The result is a strategic vision and plan that identify goals, objectives, and implementation strategies to redefine UALR within a period of 7 to 10 years as a “higher education powerhouse” in the region and beyond.

To that end, the strategic plan recognizes the importance of providing sound stewardship of the physical resources of the campus, calling for:

…the preparation of a campus master plan for optimal use and development of campus facilities and grounds in alignment with the institution’s mission and goals.

Like many of its peer institutions, UALR has experienced continued growth in student enrollment, expansion of academic programs, and a rising demand for on-campus student housing. Faced with the challenge of accommodating needed growth on its landlocked urban campus, the University in 2003 selected the consultant planning team of Witsell Evans Rasco and Wallace Roberts & Todd, LLC to lead the campus planning effort. The team brings national experience in college and university planning, and specifically expertise in campus planning within an urban context. Assisting in this effort are the firms of TMW, Inc. as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineer and Development Consultants, Inc. as civil engineer.

From the outset, the University made every effort to ensure that this important campus master planning effort employed the same open and interactive process of community engagement embodied in the UALR Strategic Planning Initiative. In keeping with its role as a metropolitan university, UALR extended the process well beyond the traditional campus boundaries to engage the broader community, including UALR’s immediate neighbors, representatives of regional institutions and organizations, and business and civic leaders.

In 2003, UALR established the Campus Master Plan Update Committee, composed of faculty, staff, and administrators, who were charged with establishing the planning scope, facilitating the planning process, and assuring broad community engagement.

Purpose

The UALR Campus Master Plan Update—the first to be undertaken since 1985—gives physical form to UALR’s strategic vision and strengthens what Chancellor Anderson described as the campus and region’s “power of place.”

The master plan update is intended to be a living document—a flexible framework for phased development of the campus over the period of a decade. Its purpose is threefold:

  • To guide the physical development of the UALR campus—its buildings, open space, circulation, and infrastructure—consistent with the University’s strategic vision.
  • To create a vibrant, memorable, and safe student-life experience.
  • To expand the University’s presence and leadership role in the greater metropolitan Little Rock region.

At its most detailed level, the master plan update contains specific, tangible recommendations for future development of the campus physical resources. At its most comprehensive level, the master plan crafts a vision for the campus clearly linked to the University’s strategic vision and goals.

Concurrent Planning

Several recent university and community planning efforts have had a significant impact on the focus, process, and outcomes of the campus master plan update. These studies, which constitute the planning framework, include:

  • UALR Strategic Planning Initiative
  • UALR Student Housing Analysis
  • UALR Campus Pedestrian Safety Task Force Report
  • City of Little Rock Parks Master Plan
  • University District Vision Statement

Key elements of each are summarized in the following text.

UALR Strategic Planning Initiative

June 2004

The UALR Strategic Planning Initiative—resulting in the strategic vision and plan—was the starting point for the master plan update. The strategic and physical planning processes overlapped, with key members of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee also serving on the Campus Master Plan Update Committee. As a result of this integrated planning, the strategic and campus visions are directly aligned, sharing elements in common.

The strategic plan envisions the following physical improvements to the campus:

Building and Grounds
  • Updated classrooms, laboratories, offices, and additional academic buildings
  • Additional residence halls and related student service facilities
  • A new parking deck
  • A “signature landscape area along Coleman Creek that draws persons from both the campus and community”
  • A “grand front door to the campus at the intersection of University and Asher avenues”
Sense of Community
  • More student housing
University District
  • University Avenue “transformed into an attractive, tree-lined boulevard, with new pedestrian safety features”
  • Other streets in the University District “displaying the University District banner, to show that they are a part of this area of cooperation and improvement”

All of the preceding elements are also articulated in the Campus Vision Statement (discussed later in this report) and have been developed into specific, tangible proposals of this campus master plan update. The master plan’s three areas of emphasis—guiding development of the campus physical resources, contributing to the student-life experience and sense of community, and forging connections to the larger region—stem directly from the strategic vision and plan.

University Avenue cross section with UALR/University District streetscapeUniversity Avenue cross section with UALR/University District streetscape
UALR Student Housing Analysis

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, June 2004

Strengthening the sense of campus community through expanded on-campus student housing is one of UALR’s strategic objectives. Over the past ten years, the total number of students living on campus has increased to capacity. As of June 2004, a total of 306 students were living in suite-style housing in the University’s one residence hall, with a wait list of 93 students. To determine future demand and the financial feasibility of expanding on-campus housing, the University engaged the firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP to prepare a market study. The following are the conclusions of their study that bear on the campus master plan:

  • There is primary demand for +/- 798 beds in on-campus apartments at average rental rates of $500 or more, and primary demand for +/- 287 beds in on-campus suite-style units at average rental rates of $400 or more.
  • Indicated demand is substantial. It would be prudent to complete development in phases and measure success of each phase before starting a new one.
  • Based on the survey results, the development scenario should begin with apartment units phased equally over a 3-year period with suites to follow in the second or third year.

The master plan update incorporates these recommendations, adding new residential buildings to accommodate enrollment growth.

UALR Campus Pedestrian Safety Report

UALR Campus Pedestrian Safety Task Force, March 2004

In March 2004, the UALR Pedestrian Safety Task Force submitted its findings and recommendations to the chancellor and the university community, following a comprehensive 4-month examination of critical pedestrian safety issues affecting the University and the surrounding community. In the course of the study, task force members—including faculty, students, and staff—researched current pedestrian-safety best practices, solicited input from experts in the field, and met with local government agencies and officials in order to better understand the issues and to arrive at a set of logical and realistic recommendations.

The UALR Campus Pedestrian Safety Report recognizes that all major roadway modifications and improvements outside the campus would be made by appropriate government agencies, or as part of a UALR/government partnership. The report includes a discussion of the existing context and driver and pedestrian habits. The following are key recommendations:

University District
  • Incorporate a distinct University District paving pattern, effective pedestrian signalization, and crossing zones that are extra-wide to provide an ample safe area.
Typical installation of in-ground crosswalk lighting
Typical installation of in-ground crosswalk lighting.
University Avenue
  • Develop prominent University District crosswalks at all desired crossings, at intersections and mid-block.
  • Install “count-down” pedestrian signalization at the following intersections of University Avenue with University Drive, 32nd Street, and 28th Street.
  • As permitted, create pedestrian safety zones in roadway medians.
  • Improve lighting intensity and focus.
  • Prohibit a right turn at University Drive.
  • Make pedestrian signalization ADA accessible.
  • Enforce posted speed limit.
  • Install a sidewalk along the west side of University Avenue.
  • Correct incomplete roadway pavement markings.
28th Street
  • Develop prominent University District crosswalks at all desired crossings.
  • Permanently close the Lot #13 West vehicle exit gate nearest University Avenue.
  • Upgrade pedestrian/street lighting.
  • Install advanced-warning signage to alert drivers of pedestrian crossings.
28th Street and Fair Park Boulevard
  • Develop prominent University District crosswalks at the Fillmore Street Lot, and the 28th Street/ Fair Park intersection.
  • Build a pedestrian bridge across Coleman Creek from the Fillmore Street Lot east to provide safe access to the Stephens Center.
  • Create pedestrian entrances into surface parking areas to prevent pedestrian use of vehicular circulation areas.
  • Upgrade pedestrian/street lighting.
Well-lit crosswalks
Well-lit crosswalks
Internal Campus Pedestrian Movement
  • Upgrade pedestrian/street lighting throughout campus.
  • Install advance-warning signalization and signage for motorists at curve along University Drive to warn of pedestrian crossings.
  • Install adequate signage to educate motorists that pedestrians have the right-of-way at all crossings.
  • Potential closure of Campus Drive between University Drive and 32nd Street.
Asher Avenue from Fair Park Boulevard to University Avenue
  • Encourage Metroplan, highway, and city planners to include the University in any planning related to Asher Avenue.
  • Urge adoption of the University District design standards on Asher within the University District.
Count-down crosswalk signalsCount-down crosswalk signals.

As illustrated later in this report, the master plan update embraces the overarching goal of the task force to create a safe pedestrian environment. The plan incorporates specific recommendations, such as the closure of Campus Drive between University Drive and 32nd Street, into a comprehensive set of modifications that help to clarify circulation, reduce conflicts between pedestrians and automobiles, and give precedence to the pedestrian in the campus core.

City of Little Rock Parks Master Plan

Wallace Roberts & Todd, July 2001

The City of Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department undertook a new master plan for the park system as an outgrowth of Vision Little Rock, a citywide planning process that established a comprehensive vision for the city through 2010. A public consensus emerged to develop a master plan that would improve the city’s quality of life and attractiveness as a place to live.

The existing park system comprises approximately 5,800 acres located throughout Little Rock. The city has an even distribution of neighborhood and community parks within its older neighborhoods.

Goals

To create a “City in a Park” as envisioned, the parks master plan set the following three goals:

  • Create a citywide system of parks, open spaces, and natural areas that provides recreational, educational, ecological, and aesthetic benefits to enhance the livability of Little Rock.
  • Provide facilities and programs to serve all user groups, communities, and age groups.
  • Advocate, build, and maintain a City in a Park through partnerships, creative financing, and education.

To achieve the City in a Park vision, the parks master plan provides a framework for development and strategies to guide specific actions.

Framework for Development

The Three-Trail Loop System:

Three-Trail Loop System
Three-Trail Loop System
  • Take it to the edge: an urban trail system connection from east Little Rock to Pinnacle Mountain State Park.
  • Take it to the earth: earthen trails and boardwalks through the Fourche Creek Wetlands, connecting a series of parks and natural areas.
  • Take it to the extreme: a trail system through the hilly terrain west of Little Rock’s city limits, connecting back to Pinnacle Mountain State Park.

The Eight-Block Strategy:

Eight-Block StrategyEight-Block Strategy
  • Provide park services at the neighborhood level; every resident will be within eight blocks of a green space or park.
  • Connect to destination facilities, such as the River Market, Clinton Presidential Center, Fourche Creek Wetlands, and the sports complex at the new Regional Park 2000.

The Four-Point Strategy:

Four-Point StrategyFour-Point Strategy
  • Create an interconnected multi-functional open space system.
  • Construct signature parks and facilities.
  • Provide neighborhood services.
  • Create a lifetime customer.

As proposed in the campus master plan update, the creation of a park greenway around a restored and enhanced Coleman Creek advances the goals and strategies of the parks master plan by providing neighborhood open space that serves the University District, and strengthens the citywide system by providing a critical link between the Fourche Creek Wetlands and War Memorial Park. The Coleman Creek Greenway would provide “recreational, educational, ecological, and aesthetic benefits to enhance the livability of Little Rock.”

University District Vision

Witsell Evans Rasco & Wallace Roberts & Todd, LLC, October 2004

A revitalized University District is part of UALR’s strategic vision. The district includes the area surrounding the UALR main campus, generally bounded by 19th Street on the north, Rock Creek on the west, the Fourche Creek Wetlands on the south, and Monroe Street on the east. Over the years, portions of the district have declined, and UALR has committed to taking a leadership role in district revitalization efforts.

In May 2004, concurrent with visioning for the campus, UALR hosted a visioning workshop for members of the University District Partnership—a group of stakeholders with an interest in launching economic and community development initiatives within the boundaries of the University District. The partnership’s goal is to foster new and improved commercial, residential, recreational, and transportation activities throughout the district.

Vision session diagram of the University DistrictVision session diagram of the University District
Figure II-3: University District Land Use DiagramFigure II-3: University District Land Use Diagram

The resulting University District Vision Statement is the distillation of ideas generated at the workshop, and serves as the basis for developing a plan that will guide development of the district over the next decade. The complete University District 2004 Vision Statement is printed as a separate document. It describes the community’s aspirations for the district and is written from the perspective of ten years into the future. The following is an excerpt:

Looking ahead a decade…

The University District is a thriving cultural and entertainment
destination, regarded throughout the city as a neighborhood of
choice—a walkable in-town district with excellent schools and
services, vibrant commercial areas, rich cultural resources, and
connections to open space and transit. A mix of single-family and
higher-density housing attracts a diverse community, including many
UALR faculty and staff who choose to live as well as work in the
district. The University’s presence in the district is leveraged into
resources for improving the area: technical assistance for small
businesses, faculty research linked to emerging companies, improved
K-12 schools, support for families in the district, and green space for
the community created by the restoration and enhancement of
Coleman Creek.

The vision is structured around seven themes:

  • Distinctive district identity
  • Commercial vitality
  • Strong and diverse neighborhoods
  • Safe and attractive streets
  • Excellent schools
  • Ample open space
  • Clear pedestrian and transit links

All of the preceding elements are also articulated in the Campus Vision Statement (discussed later in this report) and have been developed into specific, tangible proposals of this campus master plan update. The master plan’s three areas of emphasis—guiding development of the campus physical resources, contributing to the student-life experience and sense of community, and forging connections to the larger region—stem directly from the strategic vision and plan.