Implement Cornell's Master Plan

More than 2/3 of the Ithaca Campus is open space, a fact that really distinguishes Cornell from other campuses...

Cornell Master Plan and Land Use is a Neutrality goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Implement the land use recommendations and sustainability principles articulated in Cornell’s Master Plan.

Goal: The land use recommendations of the Cornell Master Plan (CMP) seek to create a balanced mix of land uses, which lessen infrastructure demands, and to conserve, increase, and enhance green spaces on campus, which provide carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services.

The sustainability goals articulated in the CMP were intended to ensure that the Ithaca Campus would be a learning landscape in every sense of the term. Cornell’s Ithaca campus provides multiple opportunities within walking distance for students to learn about sustainable development in urban contexts and land and natural resource conservation in urban and rural contexts. Land adjacent to and on the developed urban core campus is used for agriculture as well as natural resource protection. The main campus showcases several best practices for land use as well as transportation.

The Land Team will continue to advocate for and seek to implement Cornell Master Plan recommendations for compact development, open lands management, and conservation on campus. Since the 2009 CAP was released, several building projects have been completed which exemplify the kind of compact development supported by the CMP. These include the Human Ecology Building (with under-building parking); the Johnson Art Museum Expansion (largely sub-surface and extending the existing facility); the Combined Heat and Power Plant (built on a brownfield area where coal was formerly stored); the new Food Sciences building under construction on the site of the former building; the Animal Health and Diagnostic Center on the site of several smaller and obsolete buildings; and several major renovations which have avoided new construction and related land, space, infrastructure, and energy use. Many of these projects have also effected improvements to the site landscape and transportation infrastructure, in keeping with CMP objectives and recommendations.

The CMP states that there will be no net loss of ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, storm water retention, filtration (bioremediation), groundwater recharge, water quality, erosion control, shade and climate control, biodiversity of plants and animals, soil health, etc. These services are provided by the natural system at a fraction of the cost it would take to design, install, and maintain mechanized systems to provide the same services for the campus. The CMP’s commitment to no net loss of ecosystem services also means that stands of trees or mature trees cannot be cut without addressing the resulting loss of ecosystem services. As Cornell moves forward with future land use improvements, the Land Team will work to ensure that these improvements enhance landscape ecosystem services and link to pedestrian and bike networks.

Visit the Cornell Master Plan website for more information.

Next Steps

  • Continue the holistic implementation of the Campus Master Plan development and open space recommendations.
  • Create a heat map of campus to identify “hot spots” and understand relationships of buildings to site and landscape. Analyze tree profiles on campus to see where/if trees are contributing to climate control of adjacent buildings. MIT has developed and utilized a model to map Cambridge, and this model could be applied here at Cornell. Approach faculty in the Colleges of Engineering and Architecture to see if they could utilize the MIT model to create a heat map of the Ithaca Campus.
  • Create an ecosystem services map of campus. Utilize the map to quantify ecosystem services on sites across the campus, and identify areas which can be enhanced to optimize storm water retention, climate control (shade, wind breaks, etc.), subsurface water flows, etc. This map could serve as a tool for sustainable site development and for allowing Cornell’s natural systems to complement the campus built environment, by identifying how natural systems can work to reduce energy needs for campus buildings (for example, by building below grade to reduce heating and cooling needs). The map can also identify areas which can provide enhanced erosion control, by working with hydrology, soil types, and the existing ecosystem to catch and slow water at the source before it flows into the gorges.
  • Work with the Transportation Team to ensure that systems for transportation and circulation are coordinated with future land development.


Secure resources (staffing and funding) to create an ecosystem services map of campus. This could be complemented by the heat map of campus.