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  • Getting to Green

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

You can't beat city hall
March 9, 2010 - 8:26pm

In order to address a number of Greenback U's sustainability issues, it's necessary that the campus work hand-in-hand with local governments. This was, I'm sure, part of the intent of focusing on higher education through vehicles like the ACUPCC.

For instance, we can't do a whole lot about Greenback's accessibility via public transit unless we get the city, many of the surrounding towns, the county and the local transit district on board.

Similarly, to restrict campus vehicular traffic or facilitate bicycle access, we need to get the highway and traffic control departments from all local municipalities to reach at least a working consensus.

Want to do something about sewer (storm or sanitary)? Gotta talk to the sewer district, and probably the water department.

About waste management? The county refuse and recycling authority and (if it's going on public roads) the highway department.

Want to compost on campus? Refuse and recycling, plus public health.

On and on it goes.

Part of being located in the Northeast is that local government is never something that occurs in the singular. Each municipality is about the size of a bed sheet, and then gets overlapped with some combination of specialized service (water, sewer, fire, transit, etc.) districts. Just figuring out what you've got to figure out is a full-time job. But, at least, it's an aspect of the job which I had anticipated.

What I hadn't anticipated -- although I probably should have -- is that for local municipal governments, "long range planning" refers to anything that happens after lunch. The specialized service districts, while each one jealously guards its own prerogatives and independence, are able to make and implement long-term plans and, indeed, often exist primarily for that purpose. Local municipal governments, on the other hand, can't commit to anything farther in the future than the next election cycle. (Or, if they do commit, it seems the agreement generally isn't worth very much.)

So I'm beginning to understand one of the advantages I have, working at Greenback (or, truth be told, probably any university). Getting all the players on side is a challenge, and establishing actual momentum takes a lot of time and effort, but at least the planning horizons are useful. Talk about setting a goal four or five decades into the future, and people don't find that inconceivable. Work back from that long-term goal to some shorter-term objectives and milestones, and people see (and believe) how it all fits together. Get all the pieces (funding, logistics, governance) in place, and things can actually start to happen. Not quickly, and not easily, but for the long term.

So if you can't beat city hall, maybe you can beat Old Main. And Old Main, with support from the appropriate unelected government agencies, might just be able to outflank city hall in the long run.


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