Celebrating Sustainability in Joliet

From the faculty website blog of RU Professor Mike Bryson:
   Here in my hometown of Joliet, Illinois, one of this spring’s biggest events is happening this coming Saturday, May 21st, at the Public Library’s Black Road branch by the Rock Run Forest Preserve. It’s the GR2011 Sustainability Festival, a family-friendly celebration of nature, green technology and innovation, recycling, and environmental conservation.

Volunteers at last year's GR2010 Festival in Joliet

   Based on the tremendous and somewhat unexpected success of last year’s inaugural festival, GR2011 should be even bigger and better. And with an impressive line-up of live music as well as local food vendors, the Festival is living proof that that promoting environmentalism and having fun aren’t mutually exclusive pursuits.
   Even more importantly, in the year since the Will County Forest Preserve, the Joliet Public Library, Joliet Junior College, and the City of Joliet collaborated on 2010’s festival, the Joliet region has continued to take meaningful steps toward becoming a environmentally progressive and more sustainable community. That movement is part of a larger wellspring of environmental activism throughout the Chicago region, from the inner city to the outer suburbs.
   Consider just a few representative examples. This past Thursday at the Black Road Library was a free screening of the film, “Fresh,” which profiles farmers and food entrepreneurs who have developed creative approaches to sustainable agriculture. The movie wasthe fourth of weekly screenings leading up to the GR2011 Festival, and the film series has been a refreshing addition to the city’s cultural scene.

JJC greenhouse (photo: Steinkamp Photography / Legat Architects)

   Two other key players on the local sustainability scene are JJC and USF, both of which are undertaking a variety of environmental initiatives. I visited JJC on their Earth Day celebration last month, and spoke with several students and faculty who are passionate about environmental stewardship, green design, and sustainable agriculture. The college is emerging as a regional leader in campus greening initiatives, and the faculty there are just starting to collaborate on an exciting new sustainability curriculum.
   Meanwhile, USF and the recently-lauded grassroots organization Cool Joliet have broken ground on a community garden along busy Plainfield Road on the city’s near-West Side. The newly-constructed raised beds herald the forthcoming transformation of this neglected vacant lot into a productive green space.
   Cool Joliet is also working on a similar garden at nearby Farragut school, which reportedly will be one of several school gardens planned in District 86. This bodes well for the 11,000 children in the district, as such gardens not only beautify school grounds, but also serve as multidisciplinary learning laboratories, points of contact with nature, and much-needed sources of fresh produce.
   All these efforts show that sustainability is not just a trendy buzzword or an abstract concept. It’s a practical and fundamentally positive approach to environmental stewardship that foregrounds green entrepreneurship and social justice.
   Don’t just read about it here, though. Come to the GR2011 Festival in Joliet on May 21st and see for yourself!
   A version of this post, “Festival Celebrates What’s Green,” was published as Prof. Bryson’s monthly op-ed column in the Joliet Herald-News on May 19th, 2011 (p14).
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About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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