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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


January-February 2011

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Using Higher Education-Community Partnerships to Promote Urban Sustainability

The search for greater sustainability opportunities must include a focus on cities and the process of global urbanization.1 How cities are built today and the lifestyle of urban residents will influence the extent to which sustainability goals can be realized. While it is now widely recognized that the world's population is more than 50 percent urban, and that this population accounts for a disproportionate share of greenhouse gas emissions, it is the projection of future urban growth that is even more provocative. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, the world's urban population is expected to almost double (from 3.45 billion to 6.3 billion as a medium estimate), representing most of the global population growth over that time.2 Given the role that cities will play in achieving sustainability goals, a crucial question is: How can sustainability concepts, research, and emerging technologies be rapidly integrated into the everyday practice and life of urban places?

In this paper, we argue that institutions of higher education (e.g., universities and colleges), especially those located in cities, can help answer the question and invaluably contribute to the attainment of sustainability goals. A central way that this can be achieved is through the development of university/college–community3 partnerships that actively promote the testing and implementation of cutting-edge sustainability approaches and technology in communities and neighborhoods via collaborative learning consortiums. This type of partnership is defined here as an urban sustainability extension service (USES) program, which we present as a blending of the century-old land-grant university extension service tradition and the socially transformative community service ideals that began to grow within higher education after the campus protests of the late 1960s.

Carina Molnar is at the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities (CISC)

Thor Ritz is in the Department of Geography and CISC at CUNY

Benjamin Heller is at CISC

William Solecki is at the Department of Geography and CISC at CUNY.

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