One of my favorite in-class assignments involves the development of a fictitious sustainable island. Students are asked to creatively address services, transportation, population, resources, wastes, etc. They are then asked to design whatever they want on large pieces of butcher paper. The idea is really to get them thinking creatively about design, sustainable development, and integrated systems. Despite the fact that assigned students are usually already steeped in sustainable development to some extent, the designs and ideas are frequently quite boring. Essentially each island ultimately resembles whatever community the students currently live in.
I assigned this project to hundreds of undergraduate students in Madison, WI and they were quick to insert needed agricultural landscapes. Here in Ashland, OR the students are quick to insert forests and forest products. Both are relevant to include, but I find it interesting that their ideas for this project (for which I give no requirement of feasibility), are largely restrained to what they have already seen or encountered. There are many days I feel like my students just need to sit down to a science fiction movie marathon! A great number of the environmental challenges we face today could be addressed if only we could think more creatively in our design of homes, communities, products, social structures, and ecosystems. Could you, for example, imagine a functional yet beautiful home under 400 square feet?
Let me leave you here with just one creative design. It isn't the most brilliant example of a sustainable solution, but it does illustrate how a bit of creativity can re-structure the world in which we live. The example is that of a simple home in Barcelona that has installed a partially open air shower complete with vegetation. Half of the shower is essentially fitted with a chimney to the roof of the house. A garden near the opening lends foliage to the shower all the way down to where the owner bathes. On warm rainy days the owner of the home notes that he can shower in the rain itself without the need for the showerhead at all. In winter, the open air side of the shower can be closed off against the cold air.
Our business is titled Silent Springs and is derived from the idea that there are many silent springs of hope and creativity being employed to solve world problems. These ideas are fundamentally creative and depend on our ability to pull from our past and present, but to dream about the future. If we permit the narrow vision of the world we have come to rely on to project our future, we may not have one. So dream big! Feel free to start by sharing your ideas right here. We'll all be ready to comment!
Vincent M. Smith