COME FALL, A NEW GREENHOUSE ON CAMPUS - THIS ONE FOR STUDENTS
Their goal is to take practicing what they preach about green living to a brand new level on the Morningside campus. Come next fall, 13 students - all CC '11 or '12 - will reside together in GreenBorough, special-interest housing in a brownstone at 604 114th St.
Brenden Cline, CC '11, a co-founder of the project, describes it as "a committed community to extend the frontiers of sustainable living on campus." He says he came up with the idea last summer after reading about a similar undertaking at Oberlin College.
"I was amazed by it," Cline says, "and looked for something comparable at Columbia. I saw it as a niche to be filled. Columbia University is a research institution where ideas are passed on, but where they are also created, developed and practiced. GreenBorough is actually a laboratory on campus."
He eventually presented the idea at an Eco-Reps meeting, where Liz Allocco, CC '11, also an EcoRep, showed great interest.
With the support of the Department of Environmental Stewardship, Professor John Taylor at the School of Engineering, and Green Umbrella, the affiliation of student environmental groups on campus, and working with the Division of Student Affairs that oversees special-interest housing, Allocco and Cline applied for and received the go-ahead for use of the requested brownstone.
Green Umbrella's list serve was the main conduit for notifying students about GreenBorough. Cline says there was strong initial interest, and that there are "lots of good people wait-listed." Space in the brownstone determined the roster limit of 13 students.
When Alexandra Ralph, CC '12, read about GreenBorough on the Green Umbrella website, "it was the best news I could have had," she says. Ralph says that when she was looking for colleges, "the big appeal was its environmental program, especially with regard to student life and what the school was doing to help students be more environmentally conscious."
Ralph is a resident of John Jay, where she's dismayed by many students' wastefulness, especially with food and water, and by their carelessness about recycling. Her greatest hope as a resident of GreenBorough is that it "acts as a model for students who don't particularly care."
So far, group members have come together several times to plan their house goals as well as their larger campus outreach. "We don't want to be just for us," Allocco says. "We plan to involve the rest of the student body and to approach environmental issues from different perspectives."
The group is planning six campus discussions next year related to political issues or environmental law, for example, with a variety of approaches intersecting with a cross-section of student interest. "We want to make our activities accessible," she says. "We aren't just going to tell students to turn off the lights!"
Danni Pi, CC '11, a prospective resident, says that Green Borough means that "anyone who wants to find us will have a physical address, and we'll be just a really good example for the rest of the school."
Cybriwsky also sees GreenBorough as "a testing ground for some things Columbia wants to do" in residence halls, such as monitor electric and water use. "This single example of a residence hall committed to sustainable behavior will go a long way," he says.
As far as GreenBorough and its residents are concerned, Allocco says "we'll be doing things as a group a lot of us are already doing individually. We'll be experimenting a little," she says, "doing things people might not do if they weren't pushing themselves - giving up plastic bottles and taking a quick or cold shower, for example."
The group also plans a blog, in which they'll document their activities and experiences.
Todd Nelson, CC '12, a prospective resident, says he thinks "living with lots of relatively like-minded people is appealing." But Nelson also points out that although one of the group's missions is to find out how to live sustainably on campus, it's also essential to bring the successes and what the group has learned to the larger campus.
Group members are also talking with students at other schools who are participating in the same kind of special-interest green housing. Besides Oberlin, they include Dartmouth, Middlebury and Duke.
Hannah Lepow, CC '11, a prospective resident, hasn't been involved in any campus green groups. She learned about GreenBorough from her roommate of two years and best friend Allocco. Lepow says she applied to live with the GreenBorough group because "their excitement was definitely contagious."
Lepow says that while sustainability has never been her primary focus, she's hopeful that GreenBorough raises campus awareness that "it's incredibly easy to do sustainable development."
As the group wrestles with its priorities for the coming year, Cline says the first step "in living lives as an exemplary green community on campus, we have to be consistent with the recommendations we give out and live the Guide to Green Living to the fullest."