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Sustainability: Not Limited to the Environment

Past Experiences

Thus far my experience with sustainability has been limited to my studies in college, specifically within the context of the environment. It has only been recently that I have discovered that sustainability is not simply limited to preserving/conserving the physical environment, but also includes political and socio-economic components and practices. The source of this knowledge mainly came from one of my recent winter 2017 courses, Environmental Geography, and an article we analyzed. This article was Changing Conceptions of Sustainability in Barcelona’s Public Parks by David Sauri, Marc Pares, and Elena Domene, in which they discuss the variety of definitions of sustainability that include political and socio-economic components and functions as well as providing a case study on two parks in Barcelona that demonstrate changes in these concepts over time. The authors talk about sustainability as a well integrated concept that was already being implemented in the design of these parks:

A quarter of a century ago the design of public parks loosely followed an idea of integrated sustainability avant la lettre; that is, before the concept of sustainability gained public recognition the city attempted to integrate in a single project both environmental and sociopolitical considerations. The conception of public spaces, and parks in particular, proceeded according to the predominant Mediterranean urban landscape of square, paved surfaces and dirt trails, with local trees and shrubs (possibly because they were easier and less expensive to maintain than were foreign species). Planners had also an eye for social and community needs: playgrounds for children and the elderly (petanque being a very popular activity), spaces for public meetings, and the like.

This article had changed the way I viewed sustainability as being more than just the physical environment. I hope to build my knowledge upon this more integrated concept and learn to apply it to my future studies and career.

Source:  Saurí, D., Parés, M., & Domene, E. (2009). CHANGING CONCEPTIONS OF SUSTAINABILITY IN BARCELONA’S PUBLIC PARKS. Geographical Review, 99(1), 23-36.

Games as a World Problem-Solving Platform

Jane McGonigal’s idea to encourage a vast portion of the human population to solve global-scale problems such as how to function in your daily life during an oil shortage or face the rapidly approaching end of the world through innovative and realistic video games is definitely interesting considering her point that many people already spend a vast amount of their time playing online games, myself included to an extent (Hearthstone and Mass Effect 3).

However, for these large scale problem solving games to be picked up by the number of people McGonigal proposed (about half of the population, 15:20 in video), these games need to have an appeal to all of those players in the allotted population. The entertainment value needs to be high and flexible to different tastes. Some gamers may prefer to strictly play online co-op, others may play the solo options on games that have an online co-op option, while another outlying type not accounted for in the TED talk were the players who prefer to strictly play solo games. In order to successfully pool enough players together, including the solo types (which would greatly increase the gaming population as a whole), these games need to be designed in such a flexible way to draw in and provide options for both online and solo players. Ignoring the solo player population would be excluding people who have the potential to make a difference either through participation or innovation.

Once they obtain the amount of people they need, they then need to sustain interest in the game through entertainment value (longevity). People play games for entertainment. Whether it be the story line, cinematics, or game mechanics, people are drawn to games to be entertained for a period of time. Nobody wants to play a boring game, much less attack and solve global issues through one.

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Sustaining Factual Knowledge Through Open-Sourced Courses

John Seely Brown’s lecture was interesting in that he explains how classes can be open-sourced to include the students and the general public. In his example of Second Life, there were classes and group discussions being held in which the registered students could participate and listen and the general public could listen and not participate (so as not to detract from the students paying the university to be there). This method could be a very important tool in spreading a message further than the borders of registered students.

I feel this is relevant now more than ever in light of the recent events of the new Trump administration actively lowering the funds available to organizations that work to inform the public about major issues such as climate change (EPA). I am shocked in my own personal experiences whenever a peer asks me whether or not climate change and global warming is real then continue to refute any evidence I share, human-induced related or not. Since political entities have demonstrated an inability to avoid spreading “alternative facts”, in which they have a far reach due to the media, the source that the general public can trust and receive truly factual information from are from reputable universities such as MIT and other major research campuses. By having such courses that include topics such as climate change available to the general public to listen in on or participate indirectly, important and truly factual information can continue to be spread to the general public regardless of the political environment.

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