This weekend people concerned with environmental issues will have the opportunity to meet with municipal officials and specialists to discuss the future of Northeastern Ohio at the Symposium on Sustainable Development. The event is sponsored by the City of Oberlin and the Environmental Studies Department.
The three main areas of focus will be evaluating energy conservation, land-use and economic renewal.
According to Brad Masi, an intern in the Environmental Studies department, the development of the Environmental Studies Center was what initiated the effort to bring people together to combine what would be learned in the center with ways these issues could be implemented in the local area.
The Nord Family Foundation provided a $20,000 grant to support the event. Based in Lorain County, the foundation is an organization which provides financial support for educational, environmental and health projects.
The weekend will consist of a tour of the open space in Oberlin, work sessions to address numerous local environmental issues and many lectures.
"Very early on we intended to involve students, faculty and towns people," Masi said. "We are looking at the symposium as a catalyst to inform people in the community about sustainable development."
According to Masi, Lorain County is one of the most threatened counties in the country in terms of agricultural land lost to urban development. Educating people on alternatives to urban sprawl is a primary goal of this weekend.
Senior Manda Gillespie, an Environmental Studies major who has been working to organize this event, believes there are positive alternatives to the traditional ideas of development.
"Development does not have to mean more people and more industry. It can be defined in other ways," said Gillespie.
Event sponsors are bringing people from across the country who have re-defined development in there own communities, making them environmentally self sustainable while improving their local economies.
"It is a chance for people here to sit down with people who have done this in other places," said Gillespie. "They are coming to share ideas that have made their communities successful," she said.
City Counselor Ken Sloane has been a supporter of the symposium from the beginning and embraces the opportunities it will provide for the city of Oberlin. He considers it an important event for all members of the community, and local government to attend.
"The people they are bringing in are from 'green cities' and played various parts in the greening of there cities, because of their different roles in municipal government," Sloane said. "We are trying to get all the big players from the city who can orchestrate energy conservation to come," he said.
Gillespie agrees, considering the participation of local officials to be one of the essential aspects of the week end.
"The people actually making the changes [in Oberlin] will be there," Gillespie said.
"The issues being discussed are utilities issues that effect the town more than it would the students," Sloane said. However, he feels it is an opportunity for everyone to be educated in important environmental issues, and encourages student participation.
"We are hoping to get a fair amount of student involvement with the work sessions," said Gillespie.
Work sessions to be held on Saturday will discuss open space development, sustainable food systems, sustainable housing options, renewable energy sources and rural and urban cooperation for land use.
Junior Sadhu Johnston, an Environmental Studies major, will be attending the conference, and considers it a great educational opportunity.
"Here is a chance to use all the modern ideas we are talking about in the classroom, and implementing them on a city-wide scale," Johnston said. "The discussion groups will be a way for students to get involved in the real issues."
Finding ways to conserve energy production in Oberlin is one of many issues to be discussed. Officials from BFI will be in town to consider options for harnessing energy from a local landfill, which may be more cost effective than using coal, which is what much of the college currently uses. Landfills produce methane gas, which, under government regulations, must be captured and burned off in a process known as "flaring." Officials from BFI will propose options to harness the power of the methane gas and create reusable energy.
According to Sloane, the town currently buys their energy from AMP OHIO, which produces 80 percent of its energy by burning coal. He believes that taking the advice of BFI could reduce local rates while being environmentally safe.
"We would be the first city in Ohio to utilize landfill methane gas to produce electricity," Johnston said.
Oberlin City Manager Robert DiSpirito is eager to hear the recommendations of experts in the field of energy conservation in order to educate and help local residents.
"We are trying to be better advisors to the public on energy conservation, and to inform developers on sustainable land use," DiSpirito said. "We want to explore and confirm if there is enough natural gas there to operate electric generators for the city."
Meals for the symposium will be provided by the Oberlin Sustainable Agriculture Project. According to OSAP President Eric Stewart, people in Oberlin are concerned about local agriculture and how they relate to the land near Oberlin.
"It is about practicing what you preach," said Gillespie. "If we are talking about sustainable development, we need to talk about sustainable land use. Rather than have the college cater it, it made more sense to go to OSAP," she said.
"Had the food been provided by a normal food service, the food would have come from all over the country and not have been organic," said Stewart.
"We wanted to provide low impact meals that would be coming from local producers," said Masi.
Keeping full account of every dollar spent within the community is a major aspect of sustainable development and will be exemplified by the food participants will eat.
"Sustainable development provides opportunity for local economic development," said Masi.
Both the College and the city are excited about the cooperation and collaboration that went into sponsoring such a unique event that will benefit both parties.
"Cooperation from beginning to end helped establish what the agenda should be for the meeting. The relationship has been great, better than any other college town I've worked in," DiSpirito said.
"As a city we need to learn how to do things better and smarter, that will be more environmentally friendly," he said.
Organizers feel the symposium could have an impact that will reach far beyond the city of Oberlin. Organizers are expecting participants from across Ohio and beyond.
"The lessons that can be learned here can be brought back to any town," DiSpirito said. "It's not just about Oberlin."
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 22, April 25, 1997
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