What it means to "sustain a culture"
Goucher College, Manhattanville and interdisciplinary fields: Oh my.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 13:59
At Goucher College in Maryland, students have redefined "sustainability" in a way that is undoubtedly interesting: their cultural sustainability program focuses on the preservation of cultures that have been threatened by globalization and modernization, whether they are cities or rural areas in other countries.
After seeing the headline for this New York Times article in my news feed, I initially was under the impression that Goucher was studying environmental sustainablity through the social sciences. This is a concept I'm familiar with: last year, I intended to major in environmental studies with a non-fiction writing focus. Essentially, my study of the environment would have been based in the sciences, but then focused on studying environmental non-fiction and, during my senior year, creating a lengthy non-fiction piece related to the environment. It was perfect for someone who loved the sciences, but also loved to write.
Because the environmental studies program at Columbia is not particularly interdisciplinary, I've changed my major to English, but I digress.
The program at Goucher is anthropologically based, but the essence or goal of the program is precisely the same as the science-based departments: to find a way to sustain life — as we know it — indefinitely.
The main difference, however, is a bit more controversial.
Goucher's program focuses on sustaining parts of a culture that has been threatened. "Environmentally-based" sustainability focuses on sustaining a culture that doesn't know it is threatened.
The article immediately reminded me of a hot topic at Columbia right now: the president's proposed expansion into West Harlem, in a small area called Manhattanville.
The legality of the project has been up for debate lately (see this article I wrote for the student magazine). Columbia has done plenty of PR about the green-building techniques they'll be using in the new campus — but everyone seems to be questioning whether Columbia's expansion will eliminate and gentrify the cultural dynamism of the area.
I think the greater question is: would Goucher College protect Manhattanville?
It's tricky: subjects of imperialist-inklings to "save" are brought up, along with the crucial question of what defines a "dynamic" culture.
For a recent article, I interviewed Professor Andrew Dolkart of Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. He's one of New York's foremost experts on historic preservation. I couldn't help but indulge my curiosity on the subject, and mentioned Goucher's program. His answers are surprising — it's particularly interesting to hear the perspective of someone whose specialty is saving buildings.
Take a look!
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