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Davis, California

Saturday, April 13, 2024

A vision for 40 acres


Students work to improve Davis land while preserving SLLC spaces

The heart of west campus is home to over 40 acres of land belonging to the groups in the Sustainable Living and Learning Communities. Over the years, students and faculty have worked side-by-side to envision designs to improve the infrastructure of the SLLC while maintaining the natural integrity of the land.

The SLLC is composed of several of Davis’ sustainable organizations, including the Student Farm, Project Compost, the Domes, the Ecological Garden, the TriCoop Cooperatives and the D-Lab. These organizations have collectively provided students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in agriculture and design projects.

The SLLC organizations offer students the opportunity to work outside of traditional classroom-based learning environments and within a more experiential and experimental learning style.

As the years progress, the university will continue to expand, thus the students involved in the SLLCs intend to preserve its land and remain a relatively undeveloped part of campus. In doing so, the members hope to make improvements when necessary while preserving the 40 acres as a beautiful green space where individuals can express their creativity. This initiative is called the Vision Project.

David De La Pena, an assistant professor of landscape architecture and environmental design, has been a part of the Vision Project for the past two years. Pena’s role in the project is to help guide students through the envisioning process of the SLLC sites.  

“I think this is a really special part of campus,” Pena said. “These 40 acres (which is a lot of land) is getting increasingly central to campus and for the last 20 to 30 years it’s really been left to the imagination and creation of students to help shape it.”

The idea of the Vision Project is to show the surrounding community how the SLLC land can continue to provide the academic environment as it always has. Nevertheless, the students and faculty of the SLLC are determined to preserve and expand the opportunities of the 40 acres.

“We think about the Domes as a historic place to preserve,” Pena said. “But then we build from the idea to give us the opportunity to design and build new sustainable housing maybe even more sustainable than the Domes while preserving these ‘historic’ sites.”

Pena also explained what makes the 40 acres a wonderful part of the Davis campus.

“There [are] a bunch of little secret places that are wonderful moments in the landscape,” Pena said. “When you’re walking down this dirt road through the olive trees you can sort of imagine you’re at the edge of some rural farm somewhere in the Sacramento Valley, it just has that kind of feeling, which is so special and we’re trying to enhance that feeling so that it can be a place that is loved by more people.”

Each week, a group of 15 SLLC students meet and discuss their plans for the vision project. These students conduct interviews, focus groups and even parade around campus with a mobile design cart to think about the parcel of land more critically.

Helen Vanbeck, a third-year environmental policy and planning major and resident of the Domes, explained what started the Vision Project.

“The idea started in 1989,” Vanbeck said. “All the communities had already been individually running and that part of campus was slated to be a part of Aggie Stadium but there was a lot of student pushback. That was the first year that Bob Seger had the position as campus planner but there was a lot of pushback from students to keep the Student Farm, the Domes and the Ecological Garden and protect them from that expansion.”

Officially started by students in the sustainable agriculture and food systems major, the Vision Project was a capstone assignment. The goal of the assignment was to increase collaborations and communication between the SLLC organizations, which remains a goal of the project to this day.

Geoffrey Mangalam, a fourth-year agriculture and food systems major, is a member of the documentation team of the Vision Project. Mangalam’s role is to integrate old design documents with information from the project workshops to create a new document to submit to campus planning.

“The piece of land as it sits is pretty undeveloped,” Mangalam said. “There’s not a lot of cohesion between each of the spaces and the groups that occupy them, so the SLLC has created this project to increase the cohesion between the groups and operating as one unit and advocating for the space as unit.”

On Feb. 22, the SLLC members held their first workshop, during which the students asked the community what improvements they wished to see within the 40 acres. After collecting the ideas from the public, the members of the SLLC created designs to fulfill these requests. On May 1, the SLLC members held their second workshop, during which the team presented its ideas and designs for the space.

“The design team has been working very hard to generate proposals on how the space should undergo development,” Mangalam said. “The design team has made amazing and really sort of inspiring designs. I think they struck a really good balance between improving the built environment while preserving the natural features of the area which is key [to] all the SLLC groups.”

The SLLC and Vision Project team will continue to work towards innovating projects and creating an identity of the 40 acres to show its value to the campus and to its subsequent visitors. Mangalam invites all students to get involved with the initiative.

“We are open to anyone — you don’t need to be a design or ag major to get involved,” Mangalam said. “The SLLC is a great way to find friends and a community. When you show up to this gigantic campus and you don’t know anyone, we are a very accepting group and the SLLC spaces are great spots to hang out. The ‘domies’ have free dinners Mondays through Thursdays and hang out. The space is there so come by and check it out.”



Written by: Sneha Ramachandran — features@theaggie.org



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