Students become more involved in green projects

Students from SUNY-ESF and Syracuse University help Save the Rain build more environment-friendly projects in the community.

Environmentally friendly projects continue to pop up all over the city of Syracuse after the creation of the Save the Rain program by County Executive Joannie Mahoney in 2009. Ryan Roberts, a SUNY-ESF conservation biology major, is a big proponent of these green infrastructure techniques because of their environmental, economic, social and cultural benefits.

“It’s multi-disciplinary,” he said. “Its really a way for me to combine all these issues at once and find a solution. It seems like its actually doing some good.”

“I think we all have a responsibility to make the places that we live or where we are better places."
- Maren King

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There are many organizations in and around University Hill that focus on these types of projects. Last year, one of Roberts’ professors recommended Atlantic States Legal Foundation as a possible location for a summer internship because of its connection to green infrastructure. Roberts met with ASLF president Samuel Sage, and then began working that summer.

During his time at Atlantic States Legal Foundation, Roberts said he created a review article on the practicality of green infrastructure on vacant lots in the United States. He also helps out with awareness and outreach, going door-to-door giving out flyers to keep people informed about various Save the Rain projects. Sage, who helped found ASLF in 1982, said students do many different types of work, from fundraising to writing reports to going into the field and finding potential locations for green infrastructure.

“We have different students from any universities,” Sage said. “They all have different backgrounds and different interests. We work with students and figure out what they want to do and develop a custom-tailored program.”

Atlantic States Legal Foundation, which Roberts described as an environmental consulting firm, helps Onondaga County clean up Onondaga Lake and vacant lots at the same time.

“They (Atlantic States Legal Foundation) saw that vacant lots were a big issue in this city,” he said. “So they saw this issue, combined with the water, and decided that maybe green infrastructure on vacant lots would be a viable solution for all of these problems.”

Creation of Save the Rain

Roberts said during the late 1980s, Atlantic States Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit against Onondaga County for its violation of the Clean Water Act, which mandates that water quality must be at certain standard. During storms that produce large amounts of storm water, water would run into the sewers, mix with polluted water, and flow directly into Onondaga Lake, said BJ Adigun, program coordinator for Save the Rain.

The result of the litigation was the Amended Consent Judgment, which Roberts said required the county to take measures that would no longer contribute to the pollution of Onondaga Lake. Since Save the Rain began in 2009, Adigun said almost 100 projects have been completed or are under construction.

“We are transforming communities,” Adigun said. “Areas that really haven’t seen much change and haven’t seen a lot of dollars given to them for improvements are starting to get them.”

Volunteer programs

Another way for students to get involved around campus is to join the Center for Community Design Research, which is run out of SUNY-ESF’s landscape architecture program. Maren King, director of the CCDR, said the mission of the program is to have students work with community members on design and planning projects.

King said students and faculty ask community members about the neighborhood and discover what types of green infrastructure works. While King said ESF students are typically more involved in the program, all students are allowed to get involved in the program.

“I think we all have a responsibility to make the places that we live or where we are better places,” King said. “It teaches you to care outside of yourself and see the role that you can play or the change that you can make, and that’s pretty powerful.”

The Onondaga Earth Corp is another program King said is a good place to volunteer for students and young people interested in community environmental projects. The OEC engages young people in hands-on community and environmental service projects, as well as trains them for future jobs and careers in environmental fields.

Roberts said he has seen many different green infrastructure technologies. He said the most common are rain gardens, which are depressions in the ground where people can plant shrubs or trees. Another example of green infrastructure is permeable pavement, which Roberts said uses a more porous pavement that allows water to soak through, decreasing the amount of run-off that goes into sewers.

“The definition (of green infrastructure) is anything that improves the water quality in the area and those do by absorbing the rainfall.”

If people are interested in green infrastructure, Roberts suggests volunteering for Save the Rain or Atlantic States Legal Foundation. He also said there are users manuals out there from the Environmental Protection Agency on how to install rain gardens on individual properties.

“We take water for granted here because we have so much of it,” Roberts said. “It (green infrastructure) has a lot of diverse benefits. Not just improving water quality, but improving economy in the areas.” 

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