By Grant Welker, Herald News
2008 Reprinted with permission
In places like Blueland, North Awesome and River Valley, wind turbines are made of popsicle sticks and play-dough, and solar panels are squares of aluminum foil. Compost piles are crumpled-up brown paper and everything runs on clean energy. These are the green cities of the future. Blueland, North Awesome and River Valley are models created by middle schoolers at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth's sustainability camp, the first of its kind organized by the Office of Campus and Community Sustainability. The 40 campers were taught about connections between food, energy, transportation and waste, and how a city needs to deal with each.
The camp included a field trip Thursday to the New Bedford landfill and wastewater treatment facility to see the side of humans' environmental impact few think much about. "If you're going to have a lot of people, you need things like that in your city," said Joe Yarmac, an engineering teacher at Fairhaven High School, one of the camp leaders.
Campers got lessons in each of the four aspects of sustainability - food, energy, transportation and waste - before designing and building sustainable cities of their own. Given a template layout of a river, mountain and plains, the campers were free to design a city however they wanted. Kooly Wood, for example, included a solar-powered catapult that would heave trash into space to burn up in the sun.
Other ideas were more traditional. One city used buses with solar panels on their roofs, another's economy would be driven by green technology producers, and another would use human waste as the only source for fertilizer.
The campers - mostly from Dartmouth, New Bedford and Westport - said they learned a little bit about sustainability and the environment in school but hadn't been taught about the environmental connection between different aspects of life, like where goods come from and where waste ends up. "School doesn't really focus much on sustainability, so this is a good opportunity," said seventh grader Justin Smilan of Westport.
Smilan's group built the city of North Awesome - north being better than south, they said - which placed turbines on a mountain to take advantage of higher wind speeds, separated development from agriculture and had residents fish for and grow their own food. Some groups were sure to plant apple trees so fruit wouldn't need to be shipped in.
The city of Blueland, population 1 million, had laws against non-biodegradable materials and instituted a pay-as-you-throw trash disposal policy to encourage recycling. Blueland's chief designer, Arleo LaRocque of Fairhaven, who wore a green shirt with the recycling logo, said she got her environmental interest from her parents, who are planning on converting their car to use biodiesel.
Before they tackled city-building, campers had to come up with ways that food gets to people, sources of energy that a city uses, impacts of transportation methods and ways waste can be reused. At the New Bedford landfill, they saw how methane gas is trapped and used for energy. At the wastewater treatment facility, they saw how wastewater is cleaned and discharged into the ocean, with sludge reused as fertilizer and other ways.
The sustainability camp, held at UMass Dartmouth's Woodland Commons, is the first camp organized by the university's sustainability office. The camp was funded by a $50,000 three-year grant from the Southeast Regional Pre-K-16 STEM Network, a branch of the Department of Higher Education's STEM Pipeline Fund. The STEM Pipeline Fund is used for programs in science, technology, engineering and math.