Seminar on Sustainability in Europe: What are the Limits of Possibility?
I describe here an 11-day faculty field trip to Europe that focused on experiential learning in alternative transportation, planning, energy, and other systems. Although this "activity" is not as readily reproduced as a regular lab, I present it here because it is also not impossible to reproduce, and it turned out to be surprisingly worthwhile as a model. Groups of students, faculty, and non-academics organized trips quite often, and this model could easily transfer to a wide variety of groups, from students to faculty to professionals.
- to inform faculty thinking and teaching about topics relating to sustainability by experiencing a different context for applying principles of sustainability,
- to explore the insights into this topic from our own disciplines and intersections among multiple disciplines,
- to gain examples and ideas through shared experience and sustained conversation,
- to challenge our assumptions about the possibilities and limits of sustainability.
- to have our ideas challenged and explored by colleagues, so as to do better critical thinking in our own work
Context for Use
Description and Teaching Materials
This field trip gave participants the opportunity to
(1) experience first-hand several alternative transportation systems, energy systems, and the planning strategies surrounding them; and
(2) engage in regular and sustained discussions about what social, cultural, and economic conditions make these systems possible. In particular, participants bicycled throughout several cities (a novel experience for most); met with representatives of energy, planning, and other agencies; and produce a summary statement that evaluated observations and the limits of transferability to a US context.
We rented bikes to tour three cities (Copenhagen, Aarhus, and
Frieburg) and met with representatives from energy, transportation,
planning, and other agencies. The trip was inspired in part by Tim
Beatley's Green Urbanism book (which has recently been updated after ~
10 years). The aim of this trip was to give faculty direct experience
that they could take back to their colleges. It sounds as though a
number have done so, organizing comparable trips for students, new
courses, workshops and other activities. Basically there's no education
as effective as experience.
Teaching Notes and Tips
- A field trip of the kind we took required about $3300 per person and a college budget administrator who could help us organize our expenses. Organizational responsibilities, including hostel reservations, bike rentals, bike tours, meetings with agencies, etc., were distributed among four organizers before the trip.
- After arriving, people assigned themselves to small project groups of 2-4 people, based on their interests. Daily organization was assigned to pairs of people (one pair per day), so that everybody had the opportunity to be boss for a day and nobody had to be in charge overall. Distributing responsibility this was was an outstanding strategy. During most days we had 1-2 organized meetings or events. More would be unwieldy.
- We met every evening for 1-2 hours to discuss a question posed by the leaders of the day.
- We minimized costs and complexity by staying in hostels (which is normal for adults in Europe, unlike here) and by traveling only by bicycle within cities. Food expenses were covered by a per diem paid ahead of time to all participants, so that nobody had to be in charge of daily incidental expenses.
- These are the structural details of the trip. The precise itinerary for other trips would depend on the interests of group members.
- It is important that individual motivations be clear ahead of time, and it is important that organizers share responsibility so that they can become regular participants and enjoy the trip once it starts.
- It is also important that people be instructed to pack light. The few participants with big luggage suffered more than the rest of us did.
References and Resources
Timothy Beatley (ed.) 2012. Green Cities of Europe: Global Lessons on Green Urbanism. Washington, DC: Island Press
Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley, Heather Boyer. 2009. Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change. Washington, DC: Island Press.