Anyone visiting the UC Santa Barbara campus immediately notices the natural beauty of the location and the relatively pristine condition of the buildings and common areas. Housing a university adjacent to a beach may not seem like the best way to promote a serious learning environment, but it’s the perfect location to educate young people about the need for environmental awareness.

Cat Neushul

Recently, Sierra Magazine, the official publication of the Sierra Club, recognized UC Santa Barbara for its dedication to green building, water conservation, environmental education, and more. The school ranked 10th in the Sierra Club’s 2013 list of the 162 “Coolest Schools,” with the University of Connecticut coming in at No. 1.

To rank the schools, Sierra Club surveyed students on energy use, educational instruction, water usage, planning, purchasing, and so on. The magazine chose an iconic photo for UCSB — a sea of bicycles with Storke Tower in the background.

UC Santa Barbara won its high ranking based on several factors:

• LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification of 44 of its buildings

• 50 percent locally produced fresh produce in residence halls

• 75 percent of waste diverted from landfills through recycling and composting with a goal to bring that to 100 percent by 2020

• A decrease in electricity usage by a third since the ’90s

• Alternative transit usage by 94 percent of students headed to class

• 47 percent of departments offer a class on sustainability (this translates to 321 classes with 217 faculty members who do research on the environment)

With these types of statistics, it’s obvious that UCSB is doing its part to ensure that environmental issues are addressed on campus. This is not surprising — it would be next to impossible for anyone spending day after day in the university’s slice of paradise not to think about protecting the environment.

But there is another side to this issue. If you walk from campus into Isla Vista, a community that is predominantly occupied by students, you see this difference immediately. One area is clean and well maintained; the other tends to resemble a slum in places. It’s as if the magical barrier conjured up by Gandalf in Lord of the Rings has been raised between the two: UCSB values “Shall Not Pass” into I.V. and spread environmental ideas.

I.V.’s Developed Improvements

Several new housing complexes have gone up in downtown I.V., however, that are improving the area. Landlords like Ed. St. George have designed housing complexes like Campus 880 that are designed to be environmentally friendly and attract conscientious residents. Other owners have decided to renovate and beautify their properties. Even with these improvements, though, the main problems still beg to be addressed. If UCSB students receive education in sustainability and environmental awareness, why is Isla Vista often used as a trash pit for red cups and garbage, and its streets used as a dumping grounds? Why aren’t there solar panels on every property and water conservation devices in every residence?

The physical differences between university and town extend to I.V.’s residents. While UCSB students might be environmentally aware, they share I.V. with Santa Barbara City College students and other residents — who may be environmental blockheads. And, after students are taught and trained, they leave after four years. A new wave of students arrive, have to be trained, and the cycle continues.

UCSB’s Role in I.V.

Over the years, I’ve written about the positive influence UCSB representatives have had on the Isla Vista community. The university brings art, music, and educational programs to I.V. in myriad ways. However, there is one way the university is failing. It hasn’t figured out how to use its army of 22,000 to influence the Isla Vista community to clean up its act and implement environmentally conscious approaches.

I can think of a thousand ways professors, graduate students, and students can use their knowledge to change the local environment. I’m sure university representatives, and the other creative minds at UCSB, can think of even better solutions. With the amount of people-power UCSB can throw at this issue, Isla Vista could become the well-cared-for beachside community it is meant to be.


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