In a continuing effort to improve the accessibility of outdoor spaces on campus, Columbia Facilities groundskeepers have made a series of small changes to the main lawn near Butler Library and upper-level campus lawns over the past few months, including reducing hedges, redirecting walkways, and improving drainage.
For years, increased access to lawns has dominated student discourse surrounding community spaces on campus. The new changes targeted several lawns across campus that had inconvenient access points, with large hedges that narrowed traffic pathways. Larger lawns, including Lewisohn and South Field West, had significant drainage problems that limited community use.
To mitigate these issues, Facilities has opened up the Kent/Philosophy, St. Paul’s Chapel, Mathematics, and Earl lawns by reducing perimeter shrubs to widen walkways and increase access points. One Kent/Philosophy lawn, which had been closed in by hedges and had an ivy ground cover, was converted into an open grass space with benches for student use. Similarly, as the trunk of the old sycamore tree in front of the Math building had been expanding into the common walkway, Facilities has since redirected the path around it.
“When classes get out, you always see hundreds of people come through here, and [now] it’s much easier on a nice day to step off and relax,” Facilities Grounds Manager Bradley Larson said.
But Larson conceded that the efforts of those who designed the campus should be respected and that Facilities’ goal is not to completely change the shape of campus. He added that his team has also focused its energy toward making improvements not immediately obvious to the community but that are vital to improving common spaces.
Facilities has improved the drainage of the Lewisohn lawn and South Lawn to reduce the amount of time that these lawns are unusable and ensure the community can utilize the spaces faster after a rainfall. The South Lawn in particular, which used to function as an athletic field, contained a hard-packed layer of clay soil that inhibited drainage. In the spring, Facilities stripped the lawn, removed the compacted clay, put in an eight-inch gravel layer, and topped it with sand and new topsoil.
“Anything we can do to make the campus more useable, more open. It’s Manhattan; there’s not a lot of spaces. Columbia’s great in that regard. There are open spaces here that you’re not gonna get anywhere else in the city, and we just want to try and improve on that wherever we can,” Larson said.
Aaron Smithson, CC ’19, who is also a member for a Design for America team that seeks to address Columbia’s mental health crisis through public space activation, emphasized the need for access to better public spaces at the University.
“Opening up space to student access is important to creating public spaces that are welcoming and creating social interactions that students lack at Columbia. … Lawn space will become a part of how we build community here,” Smithson said.