CSLS: Paths to Social Sustainability Conference

by Cory Hopkins

Recently the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain, in partnership with Integrated Network for Social Sustainability (INSS), College of Design, College of Engineering, and with funding from the National Science Foundation, hosted a conference that explored “Paths to Social Sustainability.” The 3-day event was attended by Georgia Tech faculty, staff, and students, industry and community partners, government partners from Atlanta and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and attendees from other universities. The conference explored topics ranging from the need of adaptable designs, plans, and regulations for future conditions caused by climate, weather, and extreme events, to resilience and social sustainability. The main goal of this conference was to identify next steps for developing stronger and more coordinated Social Sustainability research, teaching, and action agendas for the Southeast.  

One of the most popular events of the conference was a journey through the "Emerald Corridor", a seven-mile stretch of the Atlanta Beltline abutting Proctor Creek. Decades of neglect and illegal dumping have polluted the creek and created an array of environmental hazards, making this one of the most polluted waterways in the metro-Atlanta region.

This excursion provided attendees an opportunity to understand the importance of taking an asset- and community-based approach towards restoring Proctor Creek as a key community amenity. It also focused on the impact new development is having on existing residents and their efforts to ensure that this development, and the gentrification it is bound to bring, improves quality of life and, most importantly, does not result in displacement. One of the biggest impacts of this community visit was that it was a trip to Tech's own backyard. It led to the realization that many people—although working at Tech for some time—didn't even know the corridor was there, much less its current state. One of SLS's goals for the future is help faculty/courses/resources connect more closely to the communities and neighbors around Georgia Tech. To learn more about the Emerald Corridor, visit: http://emeraldcorridor.org/ (The Emerald Corridor Foundation is dedicated to the healthy and sustainable revitalization of Proctor Creek and its surrounding neighborhoods in Northwest Atlanta.)

“Meeting community leaders and hearing directly from them so many aspects and perspectives about life near GT that is not apparent from news outlets or politicians. The panels and the Thurs-Friday working sessions were particularly insightful and engaging because of the dialog that occurred.” - Linda Wills, Associate Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering, GT.

The conference also featured several keynote addresses by sustainable community experts, round table discussions, and cross-site panels broadcast live over the internet. The final part of the conference comprised small group sessions during which participants identified key actions to work on moving forward. Examples of actions identified include exploring the creation of a community-based Institutional Review Board so that university research projects are vetted by the community, and incorporating social sustainability into K-12 sustainability curricula. The next step for CSLS is to create a white paper summarizing what an agenda for social sustainability in the Southeast, and particularly Atlanta, might look like and then to support working groups to carry out different parts of the work. Attendees were encouraged to fill out a survey that would rate their experiences over the past few days. Over 80% of the respondents rated the conference an "8" out of a possible 10 points.