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Monday, July 23, 2012

Aurora and sustainability


While we work to be inclusive of all cultures, classes, and people and link our efforts across all three legs of the sustainability stool, events like Aurora reminds us of the power of negative social conditions to reverse all we do.

By Dave Newport

It’s impossible to adequately understand or talk about how awful this summer has been for many unfortunate Colorado victims of fire—and now terror.  The Aurora shootings have ended twelve young lives horribly—and derailed many others permanently. Nothing we can say or write can explain it or understand it. Or feel it.

Reactions include anger, unspeakable grief, survivor guilt—and an abundance of heroism. The stories of bravery and self sacrifice literally in the face of fire continue to inspire. The rest of us are left to search our souls. We are all asking ourselves, “why in Colorado.” Only 13 years and a few miles from Columbine High School, kids who grew up in that massacre’s shadow must see darkness again. Why.

Getting through the next weeks and months and years will be difficult for many—especially those who lost family and friends. But our communities are pulling together—and will grow stronger over time.

Give them strength.

Gainesville's remembrance of their 1990 student murder victims 
I lived in Florida during the serial murder years of Ted Bundy and Danny Rolling. It was horrible. The week of terror Danny Rolling inflicted in my town of Gainesville as he hunted down and killed five students at the University of Florida made me feel, for the first time in my life, a palpable overlay of evil across my community. I felt I could almost touch it. It was awful.

Gainesville got through it but not unscarred.  Having spent years working to build a sustainable community, it was sad to watch the swarm of security lights that went up in the wake of the student murders. More energy consumption, more emissions. Surveillance cameras multiplied as if through a mitosis process designed to eliminate privacy and small town feel while making us all wary of public places and strangers. More cops in more cars cruising the streets taught us the modern definition of safety: heavy heat. We suffered an outbreak of gated “secure” communities ever further from town with all the gridlock, overstressed transportation resources, and urban flight trends they answered.  We turned forests into fortresses so we could “feel safe.”

We have not forgotten these terrible times. To this day, random Gainesville citizens keep a painted reminder of the victims maintained in the middle of town. There is never any graffiti on it; nobody wants to forget. 

In the meantime, crime has fallen. And when crime rates drop, people feel safe enough to move back into denser urban neighborhoods thus creating more sustainable cities. Things even like a robust urban tree canopy help drive crime down, researchers sayBroad based, consistent sustainability efforts themselves deter crime.

Of course, what sustainability offers is proactive crime protection—obviously, nothing helps after the fact. It’s likely impossible to prevent the senseless acts of a few crazy people like Rolling, Bundy, the Columbine kids, and now Aurora suspect James Holmes.

But perhaps through sustainability’s inclusive, thoughtful approach to community development, we can minimize “normal” crime and communities’ reactionary efforts to crimes that impede sustainability.

Turning out lights, putting up PV panels, operating a great recycling program, whatever; all these normal sustainability efforts are overwhelmed and seem trivial when measured against the social impacts of crime. While we work to be inclusive of all cultures, classes, and people and link our sustainability efforts across all three legs of the sustainability stool, events like Aurora reminds us of the power of negative social conditions to reverse all we do.

We talk a lot about integrating the social leg of sustainability into our day-to-day work. Sometimes identifying those social connections is easy, sometimes they are less clear. Unfortunately, crime makes them vivid—and horribly tragic.

Give us strength.

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