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November 14, 2012

Ecovillage plans in motion at Oklahoma State

STILLWATER, Okla. — Not many people outside Oklahoma State University’s Institute for Creativity & Innovation could guess what the acronym BHAG stands for.

If you were a student in Professor Melanie Page’s “Wake Up & Dream” program, those four letters would speak volumes.

“Big Hairy Audacious Goals” is not just a catchy phrase, it’s fast becoming a way of thinking about innovation and sustainability.

Led by Page and project director Jane Talkington, OSU is progressing toward the creation of an ecovillage on the northwest side of campus.

“If you are talking about sustainability, and you are comfortable, then you are not talking about sustainability,” said Talkington. “It should make you very uncomfortable because it leads to deeper questions. It makes you question everything that you are, how you live, how you eat, how you drive. It should be very uncomfortable.”

Page said the ecovillage would be multigenerational and not just for single students. Depending on what direction the project would go, the ecovillage could be a place for alumni, faculty, staff and community members.

“This generation of students wants to move away from gimme, gimme, gimme,” said Page. “But they don’t have a role model or a space to do that. ... The technology is easy. We have the technology. We can invent the technology. We have brilliant minds here. It’s the will to do it. It’s the will to make a difference. The will to live differently.”

There are approximately 2,000 functioning ecovillages located around the world, Talkington said. An ecovillage at OSU would be one of only a few located at universities in the United States.

Eight acres at McElroy and Walnut will be used by students as a test ground for the ecovillage. It is located behind the home of OSU President Burns Hargis.

“This is an intentional community,” said Brandon Burlingame, a senior landscape architecture student who is actively involved in the project.

Talkington said the ecovillage could be up and running within two years, much sooner if the commitment to proceed is forthcoming.

“This isn’t for everybody,” Page said. “But I think we have a significant amount of students who would want to, and an even bigger number who would benefit.”

Page said approximately 2,000 people will have been involved with the project in some way by the end of the spring semester.

OSU architecture students will begin a class next semester designing what the ecovillage’s residential buildings might look like.

The program hosts a lecture series on ecovillages and sustainability at 7 p.m. on Thursdays once a month at the Donald W. Reynolds School of Architecture Building. The lectures are free and open to the public. The next lecture is Nov. 29.

A design group of students, faculty and other interested people meets at 9 a.m. Fridays once a month in the Human Sciences Building to brainstorm about the building’s design. The next meeting is Nov. 30.

Burlingame, a 23-year-old Dallas native, said in his mind, the ecovillage would look something like this.

A visitor would walk to the compound because there would be no motorized vehicles allowed. There would be a series of small structures with shared walls, each equipped with solar panels on the roofs. The residential living quarters would be grouped according to the orientation of the sun, and there would be a common house in the middle of the village that housed laboratories, offices and meeting rooms. People would be tending to organic gardens in which they grew their own food. There would be a dining hall that served only locally-sourced food. The governance of the community would be decided by those in the community.

Page said because of the size of OSU, many students get lost and there is no sense of community for them.

“There sometimes is no sense of connectiveness,” said Page.

“What if we made community a part of their life? I think that’s what we are missing in big society, there’s not permission to care. That’s what this community allows you to do — it allows you to care.”

“Live better, live lighter,” said Talkington. “And what does better mean? It means different things to different people. Brandon wants to grow his own food and I want to eat the food that he grows. I want to design low-energy buildings, and he’s thrilled that I care about building science and he wants to live in my low-energy buildings. I learn from his passions, and he learns from mine. We don’t have to have all the expertise, but we pull all that expertise together. We have a genius level of thinking in a community. And imagine what it would be like to live in a community of geniuses?”

The project is being funded by a Provost Interdisciplinary Planning Grant that runs from September to April.

For more information, log on to WakeUpandDream@okstate.edu.

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