LivingCampus proposal: More than a garden, more than a museum, more than a campus

Posted on February 4, 2008


courtyard_sm.jpgWe’re proposing the transformation of our campus to form a “LivingCampus”. I’ve been working on the proposal, here are some sections:

This project will involve the complete renovation of the Polytechnic’s existing city campus, re-inventing the current, unsustainable outdoors environment as an open-air interactive museum, vibrant community garden and visionary hub for sustainability-oriented community education services.

The aim of the LivingCampus is to inspire curiosity and capability in sustainability to change attitudes to how we use land. This will be achieved through the development of an interactive sustainability museum and education programmes within a productive garden integrating sustainability into individual and community practice.


The LivingCampus is an exciting place where sustainability comes alive. We want to inspire curiosity and encourage the integration of sustainability into normal life and business practices.

The majority of the population is divorced from the places and processes that produce the food they eat and medicines they take and clothes they wear. Awareness of sustainability issues is difficult when the centre of production is, for many, the supermarket.

The LivingCampus will operate as a dynamic community centre for sustainable living. It will foster sustainable local food systems in both the short and long term. It will do this by demonstrating that sustainable practice can be integrated into normal business practice, indeed enhancing that business.

More than a garden, more than a museum, more than a campus

As an open-air interactive learning environment, crossed with a community garden, crossed with a vibrant learning institution, the LivingCampus will:

1. be a food production habitat that celebrates all aspects of urban agriculture: community ownership; permaculture; heritage (of plants, agriculture systems, and place); and of technological development.

2. have a strong focus on high quality learning experiences for our community of 450 staff, 14000 students, surrounding schools etc. This is achieved by an emphasis on information and signage for both casual and organised visits; integration into learning programmes (horticulture and hospitality obviously, but also occupational therapy, art etc); educational programmes for schools. Community participation is encouraged, as is the extension of the philosophy of the living campus to people’s homes, workplaces etc.

3. be integrated into the wider infrastructure of the campus. That is, add sustainable value to the infrastructure: providing composting facilities and so on, while still recognizing needs such as access, safety and maintainability.

Community Action

Otago Polytechnic is a community of around 14000 people. It is the intention that every one of these will feel ownership of the project and have opportunity for practical involvement. This may take the form of using the garden for formal and informal learning or for contributing to the development of the LivingCampus.

Imagine this scenario:

A group drawn from across the community (polytechnic and wider), decides to plant some heritage beans to provide a link between a permaculture area and a heritage garden area. Students from design work on an interpretive material to engage visitors in nitrogen cycles. Students from horticulture plant the beans, in a plot built by carpentry students and irrigated by a drip system designed by computing students. The plot is on a steep slope but an expert from Organics Dunedin helped Engineering students do an analysis of the maintenance of the slope by a fallow contour system. The growing stripes are a source of amusement for office workers on the buses that trundle past the campus. The growing beans form around a garden seat, a favoured spot for lunches (perhaps because of the stunning sculpture from the creative studies students). A local organic specialist notices a whitefly on the beans and recommends some companion planting of a herb (which coincidentally a class of occupational therapy students had been exploring as a remedy, so they plant it). A class of visiting primary school students helps to weed the beans and each completes a design of their home garden. Students from hospitality and business are aware of when the beans will mature and menus are designed to use crops in season. When the beans mature, half go to a charity, the other half to hospitality students who prepare meals for the student café. The beans (in a delicious salad with nuts from our trees) are eaten by students in the herb garden outside the café where the table has a well designed sign giving information about today’s food – including how to grow it. A student who loved the salad goes to the LivingCampus shed where she is given a packet of the heritage bean seeds by an expert from the Herb Society and a student volunteer offers to help her plant them in her flat garden.


Following the spirit of the collaborative learning approach to the LivingCampus, I’ve been working with Spire Design, a company formed by final year Bachelor of Communication Design students Sunshine Connelly and Mark Leggett.


There is no single measure here. The LivingCampus will be a success

  • when there is a growing garden tended by community volunteers (from staff, students and the wider community) that provides a long term change in behaviour;
  • when local and regional schools are visiting to take part in sustainability based education programmes;
  • when the LivingCampus produce is used as a the basis for teaching in hospitality – where menus are designed to use crops in season and the student centre café filled with the latest produce, all with interpretative information (or fashion students- materials; or health students – medicinal herbs; etcwhen there is an intensive programme of interpretative and education programmes provide action based learning experiences for formal and informal users of the campus
  • when students arriving in Dunedin are inspired to establish their own gardens and provided with materials and advice to do so (and space if required);
  • when students from all disciplines are introduced to kai Māori and rauemi Māori and Mātauranga Māori through the LivingCampus;

  • when no lecturer asks “how is sustainability relevant to my course?” as there are learning opportunities from the LivingCampus for all disciplines;
  • when the LivingCampus demonstrably improves the sustainability of the campus (through composting, water management, safety and wellbeing);
  • when the habitat that celebrates all aspects of urban agriculture: community ownership; permaculture; heritage (of plants, agriculture systems, and place); and of technological development.




The LivingCampus is high visibility action that will encourage and strengthen existing partnerships. It will also provide a vehicle for new partnerships. This is a community effort in planning, design and implementation.

Otago Polytechnic has existing partnerships with a large number of groups who may contribute to this project:

Otago Polytechnic Students Association (OPSA); Natural Step; Otago Museum; Enviroschools; Sustainable Business Network; NZIM; United Way; Adult Community Education network; New Zealand Association of Environmental Education; Dunedin City Council (especially botanic gardens); Tertiary Accord of New Zealand (TANZ); University of Otago; Upstart Incubator; Rural Education Activity Programme (REAP); Sustainable Otago; Te Tapuae o Rehua.

Critical partnerships are those Te Rūnanga o Moeraki, Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, Te Rūnanaga o Ōtākou, Hokonui Rūnanga Inc (kā Papatipu Rūnaka). They are active in this project:

Beyond the educational, environmental and Māori knowledge aspects, this garden can directly introduce the following groups to kai Māori and rauemi Māori (Māori food and resources).Students and lecturers from cookery to art, and horticulture to health areas will be able to access alternative resources, vegetables and other flora. In so doing establishing this particular garden itself in collaboration with a whānau and hapū (tribal Council) project within the Iwi and local Rūnaka. Sustainable use of naturally occurring resources and associated practices that value the environment can be further enhanced in this way using the concepts of kaitiakitaka (guardianship)and rāhuitaka (seasonal restrictions of resource use). Further to the many uses alluded to, the medicinal uses for certain flora (such as flax seed (made into oil) the sap from certain trees as a healant and the semi-herbal uses of many of the native trees for simple ailments would benefit students who might access such a garden. This knowledge could nicely complement what students in the health areas access using mainstream training.

Planning underway

The plan for the LivingCampus incorporates the development of three aspects simultaneously: a community garden, an interactive open air experience, and enhancing the sustainability of the campus. The plan, therefore covers these three aspects.

The development of the LivingCampus integrates two cycles – the educational year and the growing year. Accordingly, the project will have several stages.

Project establishment, project team etc, design and minor engineering, instruction and garden design will be completed by September 2008 (some consents and a license will be required and we have initiated discussions about these).

Propagation from early August 2008 to have noticeable impact in 2008 in areas easy to convert.

Then over subsequent seasons, will be the development of LivingCampus in areas, sequenced by time-to-maturity and a programme of conversion. Design will be based on production principles and the “story” to be told by that section (for instance we might decide to include a message about how little space a student could use for a garden, so would develop a narrative and plantings to convey that).

The garden will be developed in sections to align with both educational opportunities and site constraints. These will be planned by the Advisory Group. At this stage, sections of garden to include permaculture, heritage European, kai Māori, square foot gardening, medicinal herbs, materials production, kitchen herbs, “novel crops” and future potentials (roof and wall gardens).

In 2008, the garden will operate from existing infrastructure, but during 2009 systems such as rainwater collection, and improved composting facilities will be developed.

It is intended that by Winter 2011, major development is completed and the LivingCampus will be self supporting through integration into Otago Polytechnic teaching programmes, supply of food to the student centre and embedded sustainable practices.

How does this fit with sustainability priorities?

By raising awareness of sustainability in a very practical, and experiential manner the LivingCampus will not only have a positive environmental impact but it will also stimulate social change – through building community and through raising awareness. As a “world class” project and the first of its type in Australasia, it will be high profile.

1. Encouraging sustainable households.

This is a community based gardening facility. It will build community capability in gardening and understanding of sustainability issues. This will be integrated across a wide range of disciplines and make use of formal and information engagement opportunities.

2. Sustainable land and water management

This project will improve the management of an urban institutional site though community ownership and action.

3. Supporting sustainable business practices

This project is focused on building the awareness of sustainability issues and building capability to take action on this as part of sustainable business practice. It models sustainable land use being multi-purpose, minimal footprint and reducing emissions.

4. Meeting the challenge of climate change

This project increases the capacity of communities to adapt to and mitigate climate change through an increased self reliance and more appropriate land use.

Sound bites:

  • The LivingCampus provides a far-reaching model of sustainable practice.
  • This will be a first in Australasia, a major step in bringing sustainable living right into the community. This is a “world class” project which will gain much media coverage.
  • Otago Polytechnic has made Education for Sustainability a core principle. The LivingCampus provides a means to achieve this goal: “The skills and values of Otago Polytechnic graduates contribute to every sector of society. Our curriculum, teaching and learning therefore is pervasive and influential with global impact. The Otago Polytechnic sustainability vision is that our graduates, our practitioners and our academics understand the concepts of social, environmental and economic sustainability in order for them to evaluate, question and discuss their role in the world and to enable them to make changes where and when appropriate. Our goal is that every graduate may think and act as a sustainable practitioner”.
  • The LivingCampus will change attitudes to land use. It moves “sustainability” from something that is done separately and “behind the scenes” to being part of common practice and “pride of place”.
  • The LivingCampus complements existing smaller community gardens in that it makes available significant educational and interpretative resources, and acts as a hub for connectivity.
  • The LivingCampus provides an opportunity to celebrate a whole range of aspects of sustainability from permaculture and heritage gardening to whole food production systems.
  • The LivingCampus has all the benefits of a community garden – it reconnects people and their environments. The LivingCampus has the benefits of an interactive science centre dedicated to the environment – it provides a means for engagement and understanding. The LivingCampus has the benefits of a sustainable campus – it provides a model for integrating green into an urban campus.


I’m working now on a FAQ. Here’s the start:
It’ll get vandalised

A frequent comment on websites for community gardens is “we were worried about vandalism, but it turned out not to be a problem at all”. Admittedly, most community gardens are not situated in student residential areas. Our campus, however, is. We already have a substantial ornamental garden – vandalism is not a problem now.


The food will get stolen

We’ve had several comments to the effect of “you’ll be feeding half the students”. Yes, possibly – but this is indeed the intention. The difference would be the uncontrolled nature of the eating and the missed opportunity of education at point of consumption. This risk can perhaps be both reduced and mitigated through the interpretation stressing community ownership. Perhaps a sign “feel free to help yourself, come along during the day and we’ll help you grow some more”.

Everything matures when there is no one here to eat it

The height of summer is the time of abundance in the garden, unfortunately this coincides with the long summer holidays. This though is no different to what we have now, the ornamental garden looks stunning when there is no one here to see it. This though, is a opportunity – plants are chosen for many reasons: aspect; growing season etc – avoiding a summer peak can be seen as simply another site constraint.


We don’t have enough space

Yes we do. Part of the message is that productive systems can make use of any space – from a whole campus down to a window box.


It’ll look shabby

This depends on your idea of shabby. If you are of the close cropped lawn persuasion then yes. If you can accept that a carefully thought out productive garden meets aesthetic requirements then no.


Nothing grows in Dunedin, especially in winter

Dunedin is naturally vegetated. While die-back of annuals is expected, the LivingCampus can be designed with winter crops in mind.

Parts of the site are too steep – everything will wash away

Well planned permaculture is more stable than the grass currently on these areas.


Is this inspired from somewhere?

Yes. Think of it as the Eden Project without the domes.

Dunedin already has a community garden, isn’t this just another one?

Yes, but this is only one of three components of the LivingCampus. It is the interaction of the garden with the interactive experience and the integration into the functioning campus that makes it so much more. Put another way, the LivingCampus is a community garden in the way a bookshop is a school.


Dunedin already has a Botanic Gardens, isn’t this duplicating?

Similar answer to above. While much admired, the Botanic Gardens differs from the LivingCampus in three fundamental ways:

  1. While community owned, this is through the city council. There is no ability for ‘ordinary residents’ to own a patch of their own.
  2. With the exception of the herbs in the Sunken Garden there is no productive planting. The LivingCampus will be primarily edible, but also include medicinal, fibre and specialised plantings (eg pigments)
  3. While open to the public, the Botanic Garden is just that – a garden. The LivingCampus is integrated into the Polytechnic main campus. This assimilation gives the message that sustainability is something that is part of normal life – not something we do separately.

What are other problems that we need to overcome?