Green housing project stunted
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A project to turn some University Park South houses into a green living co-operative this fall was shelved because there was not enough time to implement it and not enough eligible students applied, organizers said.

[X]press reported last May that Housing and Residential Services accepted a student’s proposal to set aside four adjacent town houses in University Park South—601 Font Blvd., 100 Tapia Drive, 2 Pinto Ave. and 4 Pinto Ave.—for a joint living project called Eco-Digs.

Eco-Digs was to house up to 15 students passionate about effecting environmental and social change. The co-op’s planned projects included updating the houses to improve energy and water efficiency and transforming the grass lawns into organic food gardens. Housing began accepting applications for Eco-Digs last spring.

But over the summer, “we realized that to try to have it all together this fall was unrealistic,” said Keir Johnson, the student who proposed Eco-Digs to Housing in March 2008. “It’s just on hold. Nothing is in vain.”

Instead, for the fall, “we’re focused on beefing up existing programs in Housing,” said Johnson, who now works for SF State under Jim Bolinger, associate director of residential property management.

Currently, SF State is home to Towers Residents’ Environmental Organization (TREO)—Housing’s environmentally themed dorm floor for freshmen, which Johnson said would receive additional attention in lieu of Eco-Digs.

“There’s not a lot to say about Eco-Digs. It needs to be planned much more in advance and there needs to be an interest in it,” said Bolinger, who worked on Eco-Digs with Johnson.

“Keir came up with the concept, and everybody embraced it. We really liked it, but there was not enough time to put it together in the license agreement cycle that university housing follows,” Bolinger said. “It just needed to be developed much more in advance.”

But even if Eco-Digs had been ready to go, not many eligible students showed an interest in actually living there, Bolinger said.

Though Johnson said those involved with Eco-Digs did not have enough time to adequately inform potential residents, the dearth of applicants may have had more to do with age restrictions for University Park South than a lack of interest. Students had to be between the ages of 22 and 25 to live in the off-campus co-op.

While several students who spent last spring living in TREO would have made good candidates for Eco-Digs, virtually none of the students who lived there were old enough to apply, Bolinger said.

With Eco-Digs “on the back burner” this fall, Bolinger said Housing’s energies will focus on “continuing TREO, continuing the progress that we made last year in addition to developing something for second-year students.”

One avenue for TREO “graduates” will be to join ECO Students, the group of environmentally conscious students that announced earlier this semester that it would expand to include Housing’s Eco-Friendly Residents’ Organization (HERO).

Johnson, a member of the new ECO Students, said he is glad the two student groups have pooled together because Housing is still a largely untapped resource. Resident students have fueled nearly all movements on campus because they live closest and have the freedom to do so; therefore, “we have so much potential to work in community building and consciousness raising down here,” he said.

“There’s a lot of growth potential in the existing structures. There’s a lot of amazing potential and possibilities” said Johnson, who described Housing’s new fall focus as “a crawl-before-you-can-walk scenario.”

A project like Eco-Digs could still happen next semester or later, and Housing officials will meet to decide on that later in the fall, Bolinger said.

“People still like it,” he said. “We definitely are keenly interested in pushing our sustainability efforts forward, both within our operations and as programming for our students to take with them for a lifetime.”

Johnson said that, while projects like Eco-Digs are “definitely the direction we’re going to be going, the main concern is making sure there’s a legacy left from what we’re doing here...not trying to grow too fast.”
“If we can affect people to look at their lifestyles on campus, it’s so many times more likely that they’ll continue to work within the systems that were revealed to them,” he said.

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