One of the things I absolutely love about Philadelphia is that there are so many organizations and projects to learn about. It’s mind boggling really. From civic associations and community development corporations, to science and tech education groups, environmental nonprofits, and public health agencies. I sometimes wonder how there can be so much going on in one city, and whether that’s inefficient or problematic when it comes to getting things done. For example, a few weekends ago, I found myself having to choose from 4-5 events I really wanted to go to – two festivals, a parade, and a workshop. And those were just the things I wanted to attend; there were lots of other events that I wasn’t interested in. When so much is happening in a limited time and space context, how do you make choices about where to throw your energy and involvement? I’m not an expert on organizational efficiency, but one way to mitigate these effects may be by creating a network of organizations that work on similar things, and then seeding collaboration…
This is exactly what the Climate and Urban Systems Partnership (CUSP) aims to do. CUSP is a multi-city project funded by the National Science Foundation; the project aims to create a “joint model of climate change education for use in their cities and other cities across the country; a model that engages city (or urban) audiences in community-wide (or systems-level) issues related to climate change via local partnerships” (see the CUSP “About” page). I’m particularly interested in the emphasis on local partnerships; involvement with CUSP will help me get to know the Philadelphia context better (existing organizations as well as some of the local issues that these organizations work on) and to meet folks who may be interested in the same kind of work that I am. At one point in time, environmental education was a potential dissertation project, and I had the opportunity to work with Kim Fortun’s Environmental Education group in 2011-2012 (Fortun’s curriculum primarily focuses on middle schoolers).
But beyond connecting with folks and organizations in Philadelphia, I’m really interested to see if there is potential within CUSP for civic engagement through co-learning. I’m less interested in one-way learning than I am in learning about the needs and experiences of community members, and co-generating local climate change interventions. CUSP’s mission is foremost and explicitly educational, but I’m wondering about the extent to which their model can be paired with more participatory techniques. And it may be that CUSP organizers want that kind of innovation. But so far, this is unclear.
Last Friday I attended the inaugural workshop for CUSP partners, held at the Franklin Institute here in Philadelphia. There were familiar faces in the room – partners from Clean Air Council, the National Nursing Centers Consortium, New Kensington Community Development Corporation, for example – but I also met folks from a number of other organizations that I haven’t had contact with. There were presentations on how climate change is and will impact Philadelphia, and a hands-on activity focused around green storm water management.
I did not, however, come away from the workshop with a good sense of what CUSP-themed education is and what this might look like on the ground. Maybe in subsequent CUSP partner gatherings we’ll have an opportunity to focus on the model and look at examples from our own work.