The Ecological Teaching and Learning Program Summer Residency in Boston explores the urban ecosystem.
During the second residency of the Ecological Teaching and Learning M.S. Program, students spent three weeks investigating the ecological interactions in the urban ecosystem of Boston and learned how to integrate the concepts of environmental justice and civic democracy into their teaching practice.
Despite the record temperatures during this year’s July residency, students explored the diverse Boston neighborhoods by designing guided walks, exploring specific areas through an urban planning lens, and creating maps. We spent a day on Grape Island (above) in Boston Harbor, engaged in citizen science and participated in a landscape design workshop at the Olmsted National Historic site (below). Urban forester Eric Seaborn taught us about the importance of the urban canopy and Green Roundtable founder and architect Barbra Batshalom helped us understand the evolution and potential of green building. We explored issues of environmental justice by visiting the people and places directly involved in working towards creating ‘just sustainability.’ Describing these visits, ETL student Sheila Blair wrote, “The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) and Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), which includes the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Program (REEP), are organizations in the Roxbury/North Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston that epitomize using a socioecological systems approach to achieve a sustainable future. Both organizations are employing a social, economic, environmental, and cultural strategy to re-vision, re-imagine, and reestablish one of the most culturally diverse, poorest, neglected, and devastated neighborhoods in Boston… These organizations are inspirational and heroic in their sustainable efforts and strategies, and helped restore my faith in humanity.” Our summer journey through the urban landscape took us on a trip to the Quabbin Reservoir in western Massachusetts as we studied the delivery of water to Boston’s population. We also visited the industrial plant that transforms the resulting sludge into compost. We also spent a day on Cape Cod with Annawon Weeden (left), a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag, and learned about the history of the people who are indigenous to the place we now call Boston.
After the residency, students were asked to integrate their experiences and create a final synthesis that describes their understanding of the urban ecosystem. Some samples of what they wrote:Spurred on by our urban ecology discussions of patterns, metabolism, and Planet Lines, this summer I started to consider my relationship to the urban ecosystem beyond my status as mere inhabitant. Taking the city as nature concept further, I started to think about the city—the ultimate expression of an urban ecosystem—as an organism built of complex living systems, not unlike the human body…What I came to understand is that there is no natural world of the city because the city is the natural world. There is no separation between city and nature; they are one. B. Ralston ETL ‘14During my time in Boston I experienced a profound shift in how I experience nature in the city. This experiential shift is grounded in a new conceptual understanding of cities as ecosystems. B. Miller ETL ‘14Every day, as we studied in Boston, I challenged myself to see Boston as a living ecosystem, where humans are a vital component. E.George ETL ‘14Boston is a socioecological system, where human behavior is interconnected with the ecological environment. This was evidenced by our intensive three week experience that examined Boston city living and its bioregion. Each experience reinforced my belief that the means to a healthy sustainable future requires a socioecological systems approach – collaboration among and integration of the social, economic, environmental, and cultural domains. S. Blair ‘14
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