• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.


Other blogs, other posts

First, let me just state that Sunday's post about Greenback's library was in no way a setup for Tuesday's debut of the Keywords from a Librarian blog. Pure coincidence. Really. Trust me on this one.

August 20, 2009

First, let me just state that Sunday's post about Greenback's library was in no way a setup for Tuesday's debut of the Keywords from a Librarian blog. Pure coincidence. Really. Trust me on this one.

At the same time, I look forward to hearing what Mary George -- the librarian in question -- has to say and suggest. Sustainability education is all about inter- (or, as some of us prefer, "trans-") disciplinary learning, and there's no learning place on campus less bounded by disciplines than is our library. Sure, the book filing/shelving scheme is structured around disciplines to an extent but the online search isn't, and the more two disciplines overlap the closer together their volumes are likely to be. It's not a perfect organizational scheme but, then again, I've never seen a perfect organizational scheme for anything. And part (just part) of the value of good librarians is that they know how to navigate and neutralize the imperfections.

Second, I want to comment a little on Dean Dad's hatred of the parking situation on his campus. It probably goes without saying that on most campuses parking is the subject of more complaints than anything else except maybe -- for resident students -- the food service. And Dean Dad's is a commuter campus, so the parking population is greater and the resident population is less (very possibly zero).

But campus parking isn't the problem. It's not really even a (singular) problem. Rather, it's a symptom of a whole raft of problems, and not ones which most colleges or universities can solve single-handedly. The campus parking situation is the tip of the transportation iceberg, and the transportation iceberg is -- in most cities -- the inevitable result of planning misfeasance.

It's a commonplace that suburban sprawl -- the ever-decreasing density of residences and places of employment -- has been (and is still being) created by explicit zoning and land use regulations. As a result of the same number of people (more or less) living farther apart, working away from home in a wider variety of places, and shopping all over the area in search of (always) the lowest price, our transportation system (I use the term loosely) is required to provide efficient mobility from anywhere to anywhere for everybody at any hour of day or night. That being the case, one car per driver becomes an expectation if not truly a necessity, and all those cars have to be somewhere all the time.

Then, insert into the home/work/shopping equation the need to go to a fourth location -- college -- and the campus is understandably expected to host all the cars which are required not only to get to school itself, but to do everything else in students' lives. It's a major cost of doing business (oops, I mean "education"), most especially when you're dealing with a lot of part-time students. (FWIW, at Greenback, our part-time students make up maybe 15% of our FTEs, and account for about 80% of our GHG emissions from student commuting.)

I could be wrong here, but I think the idea of a "commuter campus" evolved in the 1950's and 1960's, when employment tended to be more geographically centralized and a family of four could still live in a 1500-foot home on a lot with 50 feet of street frontage. That's not the situation we have today (for better or worse), and it's not likely to be the situation anytime soon.
(I'm basing that last statement on living in the Northeastern USA, where we seem almost genetically opposed to the possibility of coordination -- you can't even say "consolidation" without getting fragged -- among our far-too-many governmental entities, levels and forms. Transportation is almost always a regional problem, and the town(ship)s, cities, counties and various districts in most regions seem still to be operating on the beggar-your-neighbor principles of the 17th century. Of course, around here, some of them date from that era.)

So campus parking problems will be unavoidable as long as (1) our classes are offered only in single (or a small number of) locations, (2) that's not where our students are, and (3) our students have no realistic alternative to single-occupancy automotive transport. At Greenback, we've been working with our local transit providers to try to address number 3, at least in small part. We're expanding on- and near-campus housing to try to decrease number 2. But we're still resisting any effort to do much about number 1.

'Tis a puzzlement, to be sure.


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