Curb UNR and airport sprawl

It has now become apparent that the new University of Nevada, Reno administration has abandoned the late campus president Milton Glick’s effort to curb the campus’s endless growth.

“We are not acquiring properties to the east or west. … We are not in an expansion mood,” Glick said in 2009. “That is a change from where the university was before.” He said the campus had begun selling off some of its neighborhood properties.

Glick was giving the campus a dose of medicine that was long overdue. The offenders of sprawl are not just residential developers. They include public institutions like UNR and the Reno airport, both of which need to stop sprawling. This is not the Las Vegas Valley. Growing out instead of up is not an option.

The policy decision in the 1970s not to move the airport out of the valley to Stead or Fernley was recognized even when it was taken as shortsighted, and it appears more so with every passing year, but the problem now is to make sense of it. The Airport Authority Board of Trustees needs to understand it is not an exception to community responsibility. It should not only stop sprawling but should find ways to draw back and reduce its valley footprint.

As for the campus, it has a co-conspirator. When the Reno Gazette-Journal, to the dismay of many on campus, started pushing a naïve campaign for town/gown alliances and making Reno a “university town,” UNR administrators seized on that notion to erode Glick’s policies and also to get involved in city redevelopment politics, which was moronic. The last thing the campus needs is to foster enemies for higher education by getting involved in some of the prickliest municipal politics, and redevelopment is just that. Faculty members on campus with more deft senses of the hazards of thrusting the campus into municipal politics were ignored.

The town/gown role brought the campus onto radar screens where it previously seldom appeared, generating new criticism of its activities, as with recent articles on its contracting and public records policies. The way the daily newspaper is being used by campus administrators is a disaster in the making. And the way the newspaper treats the town/gown thing as an automatic good in its news coverage raises serious questions about its coverage of itself.

Being involved in the community does not necessarily mean changing geography and property titles. It means being sensitive to community feelings and needs, and avoiding sprawl heads the list. In the downtown, there are already too many government buildings that weaken commerce and sap the tax base.

The development of the Redfield campus on the other side of the valley from central campus causes enormous fuel wastage. Many faculty and students avoid teaching or studying there. The campus has acquired buildings on Sinclair, Center, East Eighth, and East Ninth streets, well past Interstate 80 and deep into the downtown. To the campus’s expanding geographic footprint is added its wasteful ecological footprint.

The campus needs to grow up instead of out, something that was underway until recently. Now it begins sprawling again. This does not reflect policies of good community citizens.

Both the campus and the airport need to re-think what it is that will make them good neighbors in this valley.