Fostering Sustainable Communities

By: Charlotte Moore

It’s hard to implicate sustainability programs in unstable communities. After all, how can we expect residents to focus on recycling and reducing impact when they feel insecure in their neighborhood?  If you’re familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, this might sound familiar.  Maslow explains that people can’t meet more complex needs, like self-esteem and belonging, if their more basic needs, such as food and shelter, are not met.  I think this theory also applies to sustainability, and it is part of the reason I am working as one of two Community Dialogue Fellows for the Collaborative for Community Engaged Learning this year.

In this fellowship, my colleagues and I are working to create more sustainable communities in Greenville County by fostering conflict resolution.  If the neighborhoods surrounding Furman are stable and peaceful, we can expect them to engage in more sustainable behaviors.  However, we aren’t sure right now that those neighborhoods actually meet that criteria, so to better understand the level of conflict in Greenville, we are creating a conflict assessment tool.

What does that actually mean?  The United States government has a plethora of Sustainable Communityliterature regarding conflict assessment in foreign countries, but it is shockingly lacking in literature that assesses domestic conflict.  Enter CEL and the Community Dialogue Fellows!  We are working to adapt the international conflict literature to a more local scale that would allow us to assess conflict at the county level, which we would subsequently use in Greenville County to create a case study.  To do this, we need to understand Greenville County quite intimately, which I do through quantitative research.  I spend most of my time researching community leaders in Greenville, especially those people whose work or community engagement reaches across divisive lines.  In particular, I try to discover who leads the community through religious groups, non-profit organizations, or the local government.  These leaders are people that we will interview when it comes time to conduct the conflict assessment.  Through the assessment, we hope to amass a large quantity of qualitative data and opinions that will give us a better picture of the degree to which conflict affects Greenville County.

Once we better understand the nature of conflict in the areas surrounding campus, we can begin to address solutions to these problems.  If we can stabilize potentially violent communities, we can then begin to address large-scale sustainability efforts in Greenville County.  It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs at work; that simple concept from beginning psychology really has tremendous impact on everyday life.

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