The City, The Campus, and a Carbon Neutral Future – Part 1

by Alyssa Koehn (UCLA):

Alyssa is an avid urbanist who is studying Architecture and Urban Planning at UCLA. This is part 1 of a 3 part series on how University campuses are microcosms of cities and living laboratories for Carbon Neutrality solutions)

With over 42 000 students and more than 31 000 employees, UCLA’s daily population is larger than many small American towns. According to UCLA’s admissions website, more than 94% of freshman on average live in the UCLA dorms. In upper years, when students begin moving off campus, it is often to the Westwood Village, just across the street. With such a mass of people living, studying, and working on campus, UCLA begins to act like a microcosm of a large city.

Because of this, to have UCLA (and the whole UC system) invested in a carbon neutral future is an incredibly exciting prospect. It is in cities, their planning and construction, and their citizens, that I personally see the most potential to curb climate change and reduce carbon emissions. Indeed, in many cases, it has been the major cities of a country leading the charge for a sustainable future far faster than their national governments. One only has to look to examples like the “Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance” to see cities taking bold leadership and creating aggressive long-term carbon reduction goals.

These bold goals are much akin to UCLA’s own goals. But while UCLA is large enough to act like a small city, it is not San Francisco or Seattle, it is not Stockholm, and it is certainly not New York or London. UCLA is a testing ground large enough to be applicable to a city, but small and controlled enough to enact real change in a timely manner, all with a very captive audience. UCLA can test strategies, due to its scale, that London or New York cannot, and have big cities learn from its outcomes.

It can also engage its citizens with greater ease. Students are in a unique position of living in a supportive and educational environment that is willing to test new concepts, such as #MeatlessMonday in the campus cafeteria. The behaviors that UCLA’s students adapt, living alone for likely the first time, are the habits they will carry with them as they move to cities across the country and the world. Has recycling and composting become habit? Has the social taboo around riding public transit been erased? Is it common practice to utilize energy conservation habits in our day-to-day life? There is vast opportunity to ingrain sustainable habits in students that they will carry with them into the world.

In my next two blog posts I’ll be looking at specific technologies, research habits, and student behaviors that UCLA is testing and creating when it comes to it’s carbon neutrality goals.

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