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Wednesday, 01 May 2013 22:02

The Social Construction of Sustainability

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Sustainability is the latest Buzz word. Al Goreʻs movie, An Inconvenient Truth seems to have galvanised at least the western world into a frenzied rush to "save the planet". Without wishing to minimise the seriousness or veracity of Goreʻs message, these PDFs collectively confront the reality of double-speak and Governmental levels, where means and ends do not coincide and where the aphorism "Do as I say and not as I do" seems most appropriate. We move beyond the rhetoric of "We are all in this together" to ask, "Who is to blame?", and then "What are they doing about it besides telling everybody else what to do?". We look at why nothing is being done in  the context of the developing World (citing inaction on the Brandt report as just one example), and suggest that Sustainability has been mythologised, indeed, has been captured by the capitalist class, and besides having been depoliticised and rendered utterly confusing, has been absorbed into the economics of consumption and turned to make a profit. as I suggest further that the whole discourse of sustainability - in particular the rhetoric about the need for sustainable communities is a myth which masks an imperative of continuing control.
 
There are 2 PDFs included here. In the first, I interrogate the "official" version of sustainability, concluding with a list of 10 prominent myths that surround and support the concept of sustainability. Looming large in this list, is the issue of Community Consultation.
 
 To download this PDF click here
 
The second PDF is a case study about an architecture studio at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, that I co-taught with my good friend and colleague Tom Dutton. Tom has been working with his architecture students for several years in Over-the-Rhine - a downtown ghetto in Cincinnati. Over-the-Rhine is a national heritage site with493 buildings listed with the National Register of Historic Buildings. It has the largest collection of 19th Century Italianate tenement buildings in the country - many of which are in a state of decay as a result of City Council disinvestment and financial sector redlining. This historical process of disinvestment (as in many American cities) has resulted in urban decay and very low property values - providing a cheap profiteering opportunity to the development community.

 In the last few years, this potential has begun to be realised as the city, in partnership with investors and developers, have embarked on a process of gentrification that is displacing the entire resident community of poor,African Americans. Tom is the Director of the Miami University Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine , and through the Center, has been working with service agencies to support the residents in resisting displacement.

 In the Spring Semester of 2010, Tom and I co-taught a design studio in Over-the-Rhine. Its purpose was to explore issues of urban sustainability - to look at alternative models of development that would include not just environmental and economic sustainability (which the City and its friendly developers don't even do at the moment), but to look also at social and cultural sustainability - that would allow and encourage development, but in a way that would safeguard the life and culture of its existing residents.

The 30 or so students in the program were self-selected. That is, they had chosen this particular project out of a range of available options. Since the goals and expectations of the project had been clearly articulated in the original course description, Tom and I naturally assumed that the students would be highly motivated about the need for greater sustainability. We assumed, further, that as the upcoming generation of leaders, they would be keen to learn as much as they could about problems of global warming, climate change and their environmental design consequences, since it was they who would have to be largely responsible for finding solutions. These were assumptions that were to be called into question as the project proceeded.

 To download this PDF click here
 
To download a PDF that describes the economics of housing development and demonstrates how the issues might be resolved using the example of a sustainable housing development project click here
 
Finally, if you want to know how a small group of Right Wing scientists and their powerful backers have muddied the waters on Climate Change, watch this Your Tube video of Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming .
 
Finally, the latest IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (2014) makes it clear and unambiguous that climate change is happenting NOW and that unless we desist in burning fossil fiels immediately there will be unimaginable consequences for the planet. The report can be accessed here.
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