Campus placemaking to support student health and wellbeing

Happy Cities co-created a placemaking master plan with students from Zamorano University, Honduras, to improve student wellbeing and enhance shared spaces on campus.

Colourful illustration showing several floating circle outlines in green, blue and orange. inside the rings, there are cartoon illustrations of people socializing, dancing, biking, and walking in public space. There is also an illustration of one of the iconic buildings on Zamorano University campus.

Great campus spaces bring people together.

From spontaneous picnics, to birthday parties, to dance classes and concerts, campus spaces can be a hub for all kinds of student life—as long as they are designed to support these diverse uses and activities.

A little bit of placemaking can help.

Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School, better known as Zamorano University, is an international university in Honduras, located about 30 kilometres from the capital, Tegucigalpa. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising campus struggles with mental health and social isolation, Zamorano staff and faculty wanted to create a plan to maximize student wellbeing through shared spaces on campus. It was a natural fit for Happy Cities.

Aerial photo of the Zamorano University campus, showing buildings with red tile roofs on green grass, surrounded by lush green trees and fields
View of the Zamorano University campus from above. (Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School)

Fostering student engagement and co-creation

Happy Cities worked closely with Zamorano staff and students to create a placemaking master plan for the tropical campus.

Shared outdoor spaces have the power to bring people together and instill joy. We asked students about how they use existing campus spaces, what types of activities they like to take part in, and what they aspire to do more of. Implementing our Public Life Study methodology, we worked with students to collect data on how and when campus spaces are used, and how students felt while using these spaces. Finally, we facilitated a hands-on design charrette to bring placemaking ideas to life, collaboratively exploring design interventions at three specific sites on campus.

The Zamorano University Placemaking Master Plan will guide placemaking initiatives on campus over the next 10 years—from immediate design interventions, to long-term improvements—presenting a vision for how campus spaces can continue to evolve and meet the needs of the community. The plan outlines programming and design ideas to maximize the social potential of campus spaces. Above all, it gives power to the student body to champion the plan and its implementation, outlining continual opportunities for student involvement and ownership over campus spaces.

But, what is placemaking?

Placemaking uses arts, culture, and creative design elements as tools to animate shared spaces. It brings diverse people together and celebrates space through the most foundational human experience—social connection. Placemaking initiatives can range in scale from small to large changes made to the built environment.

Simple improvements to the built environment can have a significant impact. For example, students at Zamorano University get out of class late in the afternoon and, in a Central American context, the sun sets promptly between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m. year-round. Enhancing pedestrian-scale lighting in shared outdoor spaces opens the door to the possibility of social activities that last long into the evening. Other placemaking interventions range in scale from a new amphitheatre, to flexible seating options (allowing for study and play alike), a mural program, a placemaking student committee to facilitate ongoing student-led initiatives, and more.

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