Andrew Ross, Josh Fox and the Ruckus Society: A Weekend of Speakers and Workshops at CUISD

November 21, 2011

MATTHEW MOORE ⅼ URBAN PLOUGH

MATTHEW MOORE ⅼ URBAN PLOUGH

Patrick Robbins

It was a busy but informative weekend for Cooper Union's Institute for Sustainable Design. On Friday, the Institute hosted Andrew Ross in the Rose Auditorium. Ross is a social theorist and cultural studies pioneer whose interests have increasingly focused on humanity's relationship to its landbase. In his most recent book Bird on Fire (available here), Ross explores the prospects and pitfalls of sustainability in Phoenix, Arizona. He came to speak about the research that led up to the book, which was conducted during a series of regular visits to the city over the last few years. Phoenix has been described as "The Least Sustainable City in America," and Ross argued that this makes Phoenix a particularly important barometer for the sustainability movement. Put simply, if Phoenix can become sustainable, any city can become sustainable.

Ross made a number of compelling points. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his lecture was the extent to which he focused on what he called "social indicators" of sustainability. There is certainly no shortage of scientific indicators we can use to describe the sustainability of a given city - carbon emissions, groundwater depletion, etc. However, Ross argues that the instability of Phoenix is primarily a social issue, and as such, social indicators will ultimately determine the sustainability of the city. Ross described the social issues that led to its current state, such as the monocultural nature of its economy and the structural racism of its immigration policy. But he also outlined some exciting social forms, relationships based on mutual aid and struggles for equity, which offer hope for Phoenix as a whole.

On Sunday, the Institute was happy to host a more practice-oriented workshop concerning the recent struggle around hydrofracking in the Delaware River Basin. Notable speakers included Josh Fox (of GASLAND fame), David Braun from United For Action, and Joshua Kahn Russell from the Ruckus Society. The crowd was in high spirits - the workshop followed the last-minute cancellation of the Delaware River Basin Commission's Monday vote, which many took as an indicator that public support for hydrofracking in the Basin has crumbled. Russell spoke for most of the lecture, and led a fascinating and inclusive discussion on the practicality of different forms of political action.

Overall, the weekend showcased what the Institute for Sustainable Design is really about - engaged theory and informed practice, with the support of the best minds in the field.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.