SF State digs idea of eco-friendly housing

About 15 students living in campus housing this fall will get the chance to grow their own food, reduce their energy consumption and make healthy social connections in a new green cooperative.

Four adjacent town houses in University Park South—601 Font Blvd., 100 Tapia Drive, 2 Pinto Ave. and 4 Pinto Ave.—will become a joint living project called ECO-Digs, designed for student residents passionate about environmental and social change.

The houses are open to upper classmen—including graduate students—between the ages of 22 and 26, and those interested can still apply.

Keir Johnson, a resident assistant for Housing and Residential Services' Towers Residents' Environmental Organization, said he created ECO-Digs to be a step beyond the environmental theme floor for freshman residents.

"TREO was always meant to expand, [and its success] helped lay the foundation for the next phase," said Johnson, a humanities major who proposed the idea to university housing officials.

That next phase is ECO-Digs, a co-op for "those willing to be active on the individual level, the community level, the campus level and beyond," Johnson said.

Jim Bolinger, associate director of residential property management for university housing, agreed.

"It's the culmination of one thing and the beginning of another. We've learned a lot with TREO this year, what we can do and what we really can't do," Bollinger said.

ECO-Digs is a natural growth of this research and planning, and would take "a step further into a living community," he said.

Change starts with individuals, and while more and more people on campus become aware of environmental issues, a lot of people forget to look within themselves, said Johnson. ECO-Digs will allow motivated students to tackle issues like energy use and water conservation in their own homes and experiment with ways to live more sustainably, he said.

"It's very much an ambitious project. ECO-Digs is going to require commitment," said Bolinger, who has worked closely with Johnson on the project. "Everyone within [university] housing is excited...to promote a holistic community on campus. I think there's potential here."

Planned Projects

The co-op's first project will be to audit energy and water use for the four homes, Johnson said. The students will then install some conservation measures including compact fluorescent lamps, faucet aerators, low-flow shower heads, power strips, green cleaning products and eco-friendly personal care products, according to Johnson's official proposal to Housing and Residential Services.

A second pair of audits will follow the installations, and the students will continue to research ways to further reduce their energy and water needs, such as installing solar panels. This can be done with pre-existing structures in university housing, Johnson said.

Another project will involve replacing a lot of the lawn areas and sprinkler systems with organic gardens. Outside professionals will help the students serve the available lands with the intention to grow the food that the residents would be consuming. One of the primary sources of the residents' food should come from food grown in the gardens, empowering the community with the ability to feed itself, Johnson said.

Instead of spending lots of hard-earned money on food sold through middlemen, ECO-Digs members will be "harnessing our personal power through our mindful work. It would be jolting us into our own power," he said.

Bolinger said Housing and Residential Services will pay for some of the project costs, but he believes outside groups like San Francisco's Public Utilities Commission—which has participated in previous discussions about ECO-Digs—and interested vendors may help reduce costs or even donate basic items.

"That's why we're starting small, and we'll see how it goes," he said.

Housing’s Eco-Friendly Resident’s Organization is a group of student residents interested in the environment who want their housing to be more environmentally friendly.

University housing already helped create a smaller community garden on campus with HERO using some extra space "just sitting there, unused, basically covered in pine needles" and grounds maintenance funds, Bolinger said. The courtyards and lawn areas around ECO-Digs have water-intensive, high-maintenance grass, and university housing is willing to convert some of it for more creative uses, he said.

Weekly meetings and activities will be fundamental to building relationships within the community, Johnson wrote in his proposal. A space will be set aside so the students can come together to learn and have fun in a variety of ways.

"Meetings will feature keynote speakers, socially relevant films, music nights, healing circles, poetry nights, study nights," according to the proposal.

The co-op also plans to function as a campus think tank for green living. Everything the students do "24 hours a day, seven days a week" could potentially be a resource to the SF State community, Johnson said. His proposal stated that "members will work on green initiatives and programming that benefits SF State housing and the university in an environmentally friendly way."

Learning how to live healthfully with one another while conserving our natural resources is not something from which only those in the co-op would gain, Bolinger said.

"It's breaking down artificial barriers. We all want to be sustainable and socially just and environmentally healthy," he said.

Now Accepting Applicants

ECO-Digs is accepting applications to join the co-op in the form of written essays, which should be at least one page long and list previous involvement in environmental activities. Each applicant will also be interviewed, said Johnson, who will play an active role in selecting students.

Living in ECO-Digs will be a commitment for one academic year, fall 2008 and spring 2009, and it will cost as much as any other bed space unit in University Park South—about $9,000 for double occupancy and about $10,000 for single occupancy—said Bolinger. The initial application form can be found on the Housing and Residential Services' Web Site at http://www.sfsu.edu/~housing/residentiallife/ecodig.html.

Aundrea Dominguez, a primary member of HERO, said she will graduate in May but would have lived in ECO-Digs if she had another year's worth of classes to complete. Several returning members of the environmental group for student residents meet the criteria, however, and would be likely candidates.

"There's a positive energy with people who are really dedicated to change. It's always good to be around people with a different perspective," said Dominguez, who added that she thought the co-op would not have trouble filling up. ECO-Digs will give students the opportunity to lead by example, showing "green living isn't that difficult, and it's really better for everybody," she said.

Though he seeks students who live in TREO and members of HERO and ECO Students, Johnson said others without that experience but have great enthusiasm should still apply.

"It's about connecting with individual passion. The [co-op's] strength will come from everyone expressing individuality," he said. "Through healing ourselves, we'll heal the world."

To apply to live in University Park South's new
ECO-Digs co-op, students must:

*Have sophomore standing or higher (graduate students are also encouraged)

*Be between 22 and 26 years old

*Commit to living there for the next academic year (Fall 2008 and Spring 2009)

*Attend weekly and monthly group meetings and participate in the group projects

*Write a personal essay (one page or more) listing previous environmental or social activism and explaining why they wish to join ECO-Digs

*Interview with people behind the project

Interested students can contact Keir Johnson at keir@sfsu.edu and visit Housing's ECO-Digs Web site to learn more and begin the application process.





Aaron Goodman said

Great idea for the eco-digs, except for one critical point made by Keir Johnson that is regarding the "another project" of digging up the lawn and landscape areas of UPS. The issues is that the design of the courtyards that were bought by the SFSU Foundation are actually part of Parkmerced, a masterplanned community, that is being currently looked at as a historic landmark property and design. SFSU received a letter from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, noting the need for project specific EIR's on the property known as UPS. The housing department should recognize this issue, and not do any changes to the original landscape design, prior to an accurate historical resources survey of the property being completed. Mr. Keir needs to go back to the drawing board, possibly starting with reviewing alternative sites either on campus "green" space for development of urban farming land. Parkmerced UPS should not be changed until the preservationist community has the chance to weigh in on the designs.


Aaron Goodman

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