Looking back on CommUnity Year 1

At the ESW Annual Conference this past month, we showcased three finalists of our first Resilient Community Design Challenge (CommUnity for short). It took us time to get here – the ESW Leadership Team and Board of Directors have been discussing this initiative in one form or another since 2013 – and we are proud of the work that our student chapters have done in their communities as a result of this program. Before showcasing the finalists’ projects, let’s take a step back and look at how CommUnity developed and what kind of impact it can have on chapters and their communities.

One of the more ambitious (and flexible) parts of our Strategic Plan from 2013 was the creation of a flagship projects initiative – something that defines ESW’s role and gives all parts of the ESW network (chapters, professional members, partner organizations) a way to work on a shared goal. In 2014, the ESW Leadership Team started a year of reflection and ideation, looking at what topics meant the most to our network and could challenge our members. After a year, we had our big idea – sustainable and resilient communities – and our first program – CommUnity. It was time to get ESW student chapters involved.

 In September 2015, ESW invited teams to join CommUnity, challenging students around North America to work with local community organizations and individuals to assess the resilience – both physical and socioeconomic – of local infrastructure and jointly propose improvements in one area. The challenge was designed to help participants build long-term relationships between their chapter and stakeholder groups in their community, allowing the students to learn from the community’s rich history before applying their technical skills to solve sustainability problems. Nineteen chapters responded, and the challenge officially took off.

Throughout the next several months, ESW supported the teams through live sessions with professionals broadcasted via GoToWebinar. One session featuring Aaron Lande from StarCommunities focused on socioeconomic design considerations. A second session tackled working with stakeholders and managing risk with ESW Advisory Board members Devon Hartman from CHERP and Kristin Kielich from the University of California, San Diego. From the 19 submissions, judges from ESW’s professional network chose three finalists to present their projects at the 2016 ESW Annual Conference in Berkeley, CA: California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), Georgia Institute of Technology, and University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

The CSULB team partnered with Long Beach Organic Inc. (LBO), a nonprofit organization that provides organic community gardens for the Long Beach community. The team discussed several community issues with LBO, including transportation and accessibility to public space, but decided to focus on sustainable agriculture and monarch conservancy in the gardens. The Georgia Tech team partnered with the Atlanta Community Food Bank and looked how the lack of access to clean water and fresh food affected low-income communities in Atlanta. The team then used their previous research into optimizing natural herbicide solutions to educate community gardeners on organic weed control. The UCSD team partnered with the Global Action Research Center and Hoover High School in San Diego’s City Heights area to focus on improving the connection between local youth and their community. The team is working to implement after-school programs focused on sustainability and STEM topics at the high school.

The winners are:

3rd place: California State University, Long Beach

2nd place: University of California, San Diego

1st place:  Georgia Institute of Technology

Congratulations to the winners of the first Resilient CommUnity Design Challenge! A huge thank you to the judges, members of the Big Idea Committee, and to the ESW Board of Directors and Advisory Board for making this first year a success. We look forward to seeing how participating teams continue to work within their community to implement sustainable and resilient solutions!