The Framework

Between 2009­‐2011, Cabrera and Baptista participated in a number of rapid ethnographic inventories commissioned by the City of Chicago under the auspices of The Field Museum’s Department of Environment, Culture and Conservation to help engage diverse communities in the implementation of the Chicago Climate Action Plan (CCAP) and the Climate Action Plan for Nature (CAPN). 

The research identified a number of important community concerns that could serve as springboard for developing strategies for community involvement in climate action such as economic development/jobs, immigration, health/food, neighborhood beautification, public space, housing, youth development, transportation, nature/environment, crime and safety, and heritage (ethnic, cultural, community, linguistics, etc).1 Gardening and urban agriculture in Chicago have been deployed to address community concerns and help minimalize the impact of climate change. 

The conceptualization

Cabrera and Baptista came to work for UIC in 2011 and immediately explored ways to create an urban garden to demonstrate how diverse cultural practice could be deployed to address climate change. In 2013 when the university announced the Sustainability Fee (called the Green Fee back then) to fund student projects related to environmental sustainability, Cabrera worked with a group of students, mostly from CUPPA, to conceptualize and write a proposal for the Sustainability Fee. Ever since then, the Sustainability Fee has provided funding for the Heritage Garden Internship Program. Additional funding has been provided to the LCC by the USDA International Programs for work related to Monarch conservation. The Monarch Habitat satellite resides in front of the LCC.

How does this fit in to UIC?

UIC has developed and initiated a long-­‐term plan called the UIC Climate Action Plan (UIC CAP) to reduce the campus’s greenhouse gas emissions. The plan emphasizes that its success “depends on the individual actions of its faculty, staff and students. The UIC CAP provides the opportunity to use the campus as a laboratory, an educational tool for UIC faculty, students and staff.”2

UIC’s educational mission, as expressed through the 2010 Strategic Plan, asks that UIC’s students be prepared as leaders of society. Students learn in many ways, in classrooms and laboratories, but also though the educational priorities set by the administration. Sustainability is one of the most important and pervasive issues at the present time, and UIC should be a leader in teaching this issue both in the curriculum and through its actions. 

The following are key takeaway points from the UIC CAP and the Campus Sustainability Strategic Thinking (SST) Plan: 

  1. The Sustainability Fee initiative was established to improve the quality of campus operations, reduce UIC’s environmental impact, and, most importantly, generate awareness about environmental issues by creating opportunities for students’ involvement. In addition to enrolling UIC in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership Program, which requires UIC to purchase a minimum of 3% of its total electricity purchases from renewable energy sources, the green fee will also be used to fully fund small, short-­‐term projects, and subsidize larger, long-­‐ term projects.

  2. Grounds and Landscaping -­‐-­‐ Institutions can reduce usage of potable water for landscape irrigation by using high-­‐efficiency irrigation technology, captured rain/recycled site water, or landscaping and other techniques. They may use only recycled water for irrigation and reduce the amount of run-­‐off through smart (sustainable) landscaping practices including planting native plants, cisterns, and low-­‐impact development (e.g. permeable pavement).

  3. Pedagogy – In addition to coursework and research, pedagogy includes engaged learning opportunities outside of the classroom. It is important to provide a climate where students can actively participate in learning and teaching about environmental issues through extracurricular activities. In this regard it is important to create incentives for students to devote time and personal energy to sustainability by finding ways to provide modest support for student organizations that wish to be involved on the campus and in the Chicago area. Support for pedagogy includes partnerships with the City, The Field Museum, and other community based organizations.

  4. Currently, the Sustainability Strategic Thinking process has yielded four working groups. Each group is participating in the process of identifying and interviewing sustainability related campus assets. The groups/types of assets have been categorized as follows:

  • Health and Wellness -­‐ assets include: culturally specific approaches towards healthy eating and particular illnesses (ex: heart disease and diabetes); medicinal gardening; environmental hazards that impact soil, air and food quality; exercise and fitness; holistic approaches towards wellness.

  • Systems Use – assets include: biking initiative; infrastructure for electric vehicles; recycling; business development; IT

  • Physical Structure – assets include: environmental policy; sustainable landscaping projects; LEED certification;

  • Education and Outreach – in addition to curricular learning opportunities, assets include: The Plant; Urban Innovation; IPSE; CUPPA; CCUSC; other forms of applied research/engaged learning.

1 The Field Museum, ECCo, 2011.­‐chicago-­‐communities-­‐climate-­‐action
2 The UIC Climate Action Plan, 2009. 5/28/13 4