Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Green City Diaries: Sustainability, the next generation

Photo by Marvin Shaouni
(originally published 10/30/12 in Model D)

When I ask 8-year-old Detroiter Taneesha Fashion what sustainability means to her, she answers, after a brief pause, "to do things that can keep going on, and they work, and they're productive, and they help the Earth." When I ask her how she practices sustainability in her daily life, she tells me, "I recycle plastic and cardboard, I eat fruit in the mornings, and I take care of my baby sister."

There's something remarkably clear and direct in what young Detroiters have to say about sustainable living. They have a knack for cutting to the chase, for simplifying what grown-ups easily overcomplicate: Sustainability means thinking long-term. It means caring for yourself, caring for others, caring for the planet. It means taking personal responsibility.

You've heard the old story about kids in Detroit. Reduced to one essential and frequently repeated narrative, it goes something like: they're not all right. The truth, of course, is much more complex. Here's one huge, but criminally underreported, part of the story about Detroit kids and teenagers: under the guidance of some heroic adults, many of them are busy transforming their city into a greener one. In school, after school, and at home, they're growing and selling food, taking ownership of their neighborhoods, and learning how to conserve natural resources.

They're learning about alternative energy and energy reduction, landscape design, neighborhood mapping, and, of course, the classic three R hierarchy that bears repeating, because it remains so clear-cut and essential to a better shared future: Reduce consumption first, reuse materials second, and then, finally, recycle what you can't reuse.

Ten or twelve middle schoolers are discussing the practical application of this hierarchy when I visit Palmer Park Preparatory Academy to observe an after school science club there.

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