By Taylor Wilmot
The Oberlin Project is an ambitious plan that brings hope to the future of localized sustainability. The Oberlin project is looked upon as an example of how colleges and universities across the country, and the world, can participate in the sustainability movement. One of the most admirable parts of this vision in my opinion is the potential to merge and integrate the Oberlin College community and the surrounding residential area. Higher education and the larger communities that surround them have a long history, and often a pattern of tension between the two entities. As communities look to initiate sustainable projects it is key to consider the social sustainability of your community as well as the environmental sustainability. If an initiative such as the Oberlin project can promote buy in and ownership from the larger community then it will be more successful and self-sustaining. College and universities are often perceived as implementing top-down strategies to benefit their own businesses, and may be viewed by residents and other community stakeholders as exclusive. However, the needs of higher education and their surrounding communities are incredibly interrelated and dependent on one another in terms of all different types of sustainability, including but not limited to environmental, social, and economic.
When it comes to conceptualizing sustainability, David Orr has reiterated that it means more than squiggly light bulbs and hybrid cars. Sustainability needs to include and take into consideration many different facets such as education, community integration, social spaces, and especially an acknowledgment of history and learning from the past. All communities have social tension and town-gown relations should be discussed in order to build on this relationship. Interacting with local communities can be a vital part of a students’ education, and student’s can provide an abundance of resources for the community at large. In order for this symbiotic relationship to begin to take shape, relationships must be built and residents must be felt that their voices and opinions, their local knowledge of their community, is being heard, considered, and factored into the sustainability equation. If College and Universities are willing to take the time to build this dynamic into town-gown relations, it will allow for increasingly beneficial sustainability projects that are built upon a foundation of strong community support.
The Oberlin project has implemented multiple strategies to involve the local community and create working groups to provide input in the planning process. I hope this is an example for other higher education entities to deeper their dialogue and sustainability projects with their surrounding communities. Breaking down social barriers entrenched in history in order to increase participation from all stakeholders with provide even more unique and progressive planning strategies for the future of localized sustainability.