The Office of Civic & Community Engagement at the University of Miami is launching our Urban and Environmental Sustainability Initiative for the 2012/2013 academic year. As we grapple with how best to address the depletion of natural resources, accelerating urban growth, poverty, hunger, and environmental degradation, it is clear that examining sustainability from multiple perspectives is essential. This initiative presents an opportunity to work collaboratively across fields towards multidisciplinary learning and innovative solutions.  The University of Miami seeks to address these challenges by bringing together policy experts, not-for-profits, scientists, grassroots activists, urban planners, government agencies, community members, faculty, and students to identify needs, develop strategies for solutions, and help translate local activism into effective public policy. This initiative will look at both the historical and contemporary context for urban and environmental sustainability issues from both local and national perspectives. It will draw from models of what is being done well locally, nationally, and internationally, and will seek solutions for best practices while recognizing the unique elements that shape the natural and built environments of South Florida.

The Urban and Environmental Sustainability Initiative furthers the mission of the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, which is to enhance university-community collaborations by engaging the university’s academic resources in the enrichment of civic and community life in South Florida, by bringing University students and faculty, national and local scholars, activists, practitioners, and community members to the same table to discuss issues of sustainability and to create university-community collaborations that address the issue in a more effective, comprehensive manner. By combining courses, public programs, and community partnerships, we seek to foster a climate in which innovative and effective solutions for sustainability and environmental issues can be thoroughly investigated and implemented on both local and global scales.

The Office of Civic & Community Engagement will host a range of public programs on a variety of topics relating to sustainability, including film screenings, lectures, and panel discussions. Faculty from multiple schools and colleges at UM will offer courses that relate to the variety of factors that relate to urban and environmental sustainability. The courses address topics including depletion of resources, social inequality, conservation, agricultural practice and policy, city planning and urban development, environmental justice, and natural and social ecologies. Students and faculty in these courses will work with community organizations to create an informal learning community that will enable students to translate their classroom learning into real-world experience and develop the capacity to promote innovative solutions and best practices. Through this initiative, we aim to create a local, multidisciplinary, cross-sector dialogue on ways to creatively and collaboratively address challenges and issues of common concern while collecting and disseminating relevant information and translating new knowledge into the implementation of more sustainable practices and public policy.