Making Sustainability Visible: One Student's JRPS

By 11th grader Izzy

In 2050, the global population is estimated to be about 10 billion people. More than 70 percent of those 10 billion will be living in urban areas. This level of change inspires many questions, such as: How can we adjust our urban development practices to cope with these increases? What were our urban and suburban practices in the past? Who is the most at risk with these changes in urban areas, and what can we do to help protect them?

It was with these questions in mind that I started my Junior Research Project. As a student at Meridian Academy, a small independent school in Jamaica Plain, I have the opportunity to dive deep into a topic of my choice for full year. I get to work closely with an advisor to do academic research and then produce a project that extends my learning.

Although I ended up fascinated with urban planning, that’s not where my interest began. Fighting climate change is a major passion of mine, and I originally wanted to study how the American housing system evolved through the 20th century. I started my research by examining green movements such as the Tiny House Movement, the accessibility of those movements to people of different economic backgrounds, as well as the role these movements play in combating global climate change.

One of the most important lessons I learned this year centers on the complexity and importance of the word “sustainability”. Prior to this project, I only perceived this word in the context environmental sustainability. During my research, however, I found out about the “three-legged stool of sustainability” which includes environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Because all of these “legs” are most easily and commonly addressed in dense urban areas, I decided to focus my remaining research on city-wide sustainability.

When it came time to use this research to generate a final project, I used the knowledge I gained from my study of urban planning: community input is a key way to maintain sustainability. In light of this, I wanted to create an interactive and informative exhibit that would be open to the public. After working with many local organizations and people, and receiving a grant from Eastern Bank, I was able to create two kiosk-like structures that are located on the lawn in front of JP Baptist Church on Centre Street. The exhibit examines the environmental justice movement, the history of sprawl, urban renewal, and modern sustainability practices, both nationally and locally. The structures are painted with chalkboard paint and visitors are encouraged to respond to the questions posed on the labels and share ideas and questions of their own.

The questions that spurred my project still feel deeply relevant to me today, and the knowledge I've gained helps me see their importance even more clearly. But not everyone has a whole school year to delve into research. I hope these structures will encourage others to examine these questions, and that we can imagine together how we can create a sustainable 2050.