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Sustainable Community Development

Adjunct Professor of Art and Architecture Cari Varner also serves as
the Sustainable Community Development Program manager.

New Minor Connects Students with Community

by Lori A. Gable '86

This spring, HWS students in the Sustainable Community Development Program (SCDP) worked with the City of Geneva and the residents of the East Lakeview neighborhood to determine the future of the former gas station and convenience store known as Joe's Service Station.

Located in the city's North End, the site sustained several gasoline spills between 1992 and 2008, according to the Geneva Neighborhood Resource Center (GNRC), which over the past several years has been organizing residents and neighborhoods to improve quality of life in the City. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation addressed leaking underground storage tanks associated with the spills in 2011, and the tanks, along with 3,800 tons of contaminated soil, were removed and disposed of in an off-site landfill. However, contaminated soil remains around building foundations.

In 2013, the City of Geneva secured funding from the State to complete "a prenomination study" to guide and coordinate future neighborhood revitalization initiatives in the North End neighborhoods, particularly the area's brownfield properties. Brownfield refers to an industrial or commercial property, abandoned or underutilized due to environmental contamination or concern over such contamination.

In the interdisciplinary Community Design course, which is also the capstone course for the newly-approved Sustainable Community Development minor, Hobart and William Smith students are paired with a municipality or neighborhood group. They meet with residents, community leaders and city officials every two weeks regarding the course's area of focus, in this case the service station site.

"Our intention is to bring something positive to the site, to restore a sense of pride to an area where the old filling station was an eyesore," says Hannah Brunelle '14, an environmental studies major and double minor in sociology and sustainable community development.

Students in the "Sustainable Community Development Methods and Tools"
class co-taught by Adjunct Professor of Art and Architecture Cari
Varner and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Robin Lewis,
present their final proposals for the former filling station site to
community members, city officials, property owners and HWS faculty
and staff at the renovated Farmers and Merchants Bank, now an art
gallery and event venue.

The Sustainable Community Development Program emerged as a response to student interest and growing public recognition of the need for communities to address social, economic and ecological challenges. The Colleges, through the Finger Lakes Institute, developed the program, along with faculty, staff, and community and business leaders, to better prepare students for careers in economic development, social justice, and stewardship of the natural environment.

Approved this spring, the Sustainable Community Development minor integrates co-curricular and experiential components in architectural studies, economics, environmental studies and sustainability. Four seniors graduated this year having earned a minor in the field.

"Students in the Community Design course are doing research on the neighborhood and learning about the history and the residents," says Cari Varner, the SCDP program manager who also serves as an adjunct professor in art and architecture. Varner co-teaches the course with Robin Lewis, assistant professor of Environmental Studies. "We spent the first half of the semester learning what the neighborhood and the GNRC need. The second half of the semester involved developing design proposals for the re-use of the property, based on those needs."

Among the proposed goals for the site are recreation-based commerce, open space and a neighborhood market. Aligned with community feedback, Brunelle envisions the future site "as a green space for the neighborhood to enjoy with a community garden, barbecue areas and a social gathering space to view nature."

No matter the direction chosen, the ultimate goal is to provide a functional space for the community, underscoring the purpose of the SCDP.

"The professors and students bring a wide range of perspective and knowledge," says Marty Davis, Neighborhood Association Coordinator at the GNRC. "They are a great resource for conducting study, research and building a body of workable solutions—all at no cost to the neighborhood except participants' time."