Towards Sustainable Communities

This week concludes my experience in the SPEA course V515 Sustainable Communities. It has been a great class, jam-packed with a plethora of exciting topics. In this post, I will try sum up some of my personal highlights of the semester.

I have been interested in sustainability for several years. I’ve read quite a bit of literature on the subject and have worked to integrate sustainable principles in both personal and professional projects. In this sense, I cannot say that the content of this class was completely new or transformative for me. However, I can say, without a doubt, that this class has significantly broadened and deepened my understanding of sustainability.

In terms of breadth, the range of topics that we have covered in one semester is truly impressive. Food, water, waste, energy, climate, housing, transportation, business, behavior change, social justice‚Äďand the list goes on–were all discussed in a substantive way. In terms of scale, we addressed issues ranging from personal lifestyle all the way up to global economics and planetary limits. However, most significant for me, was how much time we spent focused on the intermediate scale: public policy, urban design and management at the community level.

This was largely new material for me. As a SPEA outsider, it was fascinating to be exposed to these issues. At the urban level, there are some many promising solutions within reach, and also so many nitty gritty practical and political challenges to overcome. I was grateful to learn from the SPEA students who bring varied expertise in public policy and environmental science. And of course, it was a huge help to be led by IU Director of Sustainability, Bill Brown, who is daily working to infuse sustainability into the IUB community.

The opportunity to work with the city of Bloomington brought another layer of real-life experience into the ways that sustainability and local government intersect. It was fascinating to chat with Vince Caristo and Justin Wykoff and get a glimpse of the day to day workings of city planning and engineering. These are professions that I previously knew little about and had rarely considered. Now as I bike, walk, or drive around town, I cant stop analyzing the minutia of bikelanes, crosswalks, curb extensions, yields, etc. etc. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not.

Without a doubt, the most memorable aspect of the course was interacting with my classmates. I had never taken a graduate class in SPEA, or a graduate class on sustainability before. It was such a pleasure to learn from students who bring a wide diversity of perspectives and yet share such an amazing passion for sustainability. My favorite classes were the ones in which we tackled tough controversial questions, like social justice, business ethics, climate politics. I really enjoyed learning by engaging in debate and hearing arguments from multiple sides of an issue. The blogs provided a fantastic forum for students to express their unique perspectives in a more personal and substantive way. I look forward to re-reading many of the posts as there is a wealth of knowledge represented. Most importantly, I hope to continue to keep in touch with the class and maintain this great network of talented and enthusiastic sustainability professionals.

Thanks all for a great semeseter.

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