Students in Dr. Elena Traister's "Green Living Seminar" not only learn about issues of sustainability that impact communities; through their study and related projects, they have a unique opportunity to impact the Berkshires. This semester, their efforts are focused on downtown North Adams.
The class includes the Green Living lecture series, which also serves as a requirement for environmental studies majors. Before each lecture - where the students hear from local, regional, and national experts - they meet to discuss the ideas presented by the previous week's lecturer.
"The Green Living series is outstanding," said Felipe Aedo '14 of San Fernando, Chile. "We have the opportunity to hear from renowned experts on a wide range of fields, right here on our campus. And since it is free and open to the public, we also can meet other members of the community who share an interest in these topics."
Held each Thursday night, the Green Living talks begin at 5:30 p.m. in room 218 of Murdock Hall.
"We're learning along with our neighbors," Traister explained. "We're able to connect some of these 'big picture' ideas with local efforts. Doing related service projects is really a fun part of the course, where students can work on making some change with some of the information they're learning over the course of the semester."
This year's theme of "Place-based Prosperity" found its genesis in Traister's 2012 "Green Living" class, after those students began to think about what makes a city sustainable, and how urban areas might be better designed.
As a result, this semester's series focuses on ways to design a vibrant community that's sustainable over the long term.
According to Traister, Aedo and Richard Doucette '14 of Southborough, Mass., were instrumental in helping the class decide what type of project they should do this semester.
"The topic just fit so well with one, big project in downtown North Adams," she explained. "It will demonstrate the possibilities for improving a small area - Eagle Street. We're already collaborating with the City to do this. They're thinking creatively about how they might make cities great places to live over the long term."
According to Doucette, the information presented to the class by the speakers - as well as the ideas generated in student discussions - are potential solutions to the problems studied by environmental studies majors.
"'Place-based Prosperity' is a sustainable alternative to the fossil-fuel intensive, suburban sprawling United States that we find ourselves in today," Doucette said. "We need to encourage change, and learn how we can be involved in positive change."
The "Better Block Project" will take place at the end of April in the form of a one-day event, planned and executed by the students. Based on the ideals discussed in the Green Living lectures, it will include a talk by an expert, as well as ideas of how Eagle Street might be invigorated through sustainable initiatives.
The next Green Living lecture will take place on Thursday, Jan. 31, when Charles Marohn, executive director of Strong Towns, discusses "Strong Towns." For more information on this and other Green Living lectures, go to www.mcla.edu/greenliving.
The 2013 Green Living series received assistance from Imagining North Adams, and is a presentation of MCLA's Berkshire Environmental Resource Center and the MCLA Environmental Studies Department.