When the lot isn’t being used as a market, it serves as a downtown “pocket park” for families and students to picnic or study.
This is the scene senior Ellie Lerner, junior Nick Chaplow and senior Zach Pate are building for their capstone project in their sustainability minor.
“We were racking our brains for these project ideas and I was trying to come up with something super innovative and scientific, and all I could think about was how you couldn’t go and get these necessities in downtown Auburn,” Lerner said. “It would be a much more walkable place if you could.”
Every semester since Auburn offered a sustainability minor six years ago, students participate in a capstone class and create a realistic plan to improve the sustainability of the city of Auburn and Auburn University. These projects then progress to become the foundation for new development plans implemented by Auburn.
Past projects have inspired a university bike share program, campus building design and sustainable foods in the Tiger Dining program.
Sitting in the back corner of the Reed Design Resource Center lounge on the basement floor of Spidle Hall with her phone plugged in beside her and her Mac laptop in front of her, Lerner works on the layout design of the marketplace. The final presentation will be on April 16, but designing and working out the kinks of a sustainable marketplace is time consuming.
The finished plan will have a list of potential booths. Bike repair, hands-on sustainability education, fresh produce and a compost trade are all on the table.
Lerner is an interior design major, but her resume is a self-described “circus.” She came to Auburn as a journalism major, switched to geology, spent a semester in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu, studied sustainability abroad in Fiji and started the improv comedy group Lee County Flannel Club at Auburn.
Chaplow is a building science major with a double minor in business and sustainability, and Pate is a hotel and restaurant management major. The three of them each bring different skill sets to the collaborative project.
“Sure, a marketplace has little to nothing to do with construction, but that’s not the point of sustainability,” Chaplow said. “The minor has taught me that if you feel passionate about changing something, you don’t necessarily need a particular skill set to research or fix it.”
The plans for a marketplace is a small step towards how Auburn could improve a sustainable lifestyle.
Sustainability has become a factor in all job fields, and education is the most important tool in improving the future. But in a town and university steeped in tradition, changing long-held attitudes is a challenge.
“It’s so hard to get sustainability events marketed,” Lerner said. “It’s like, we’ve got to get people to care about this stuff, but how?”
Sustainability isn’t a bandwagon, says Lerner, it’s the future. Not just the future for grungy hippie types, but for everyone. Auburn has a responsibility in solving the nation’s problems as a land-grant university, and capstone project plans designed by Auburn University students are leading the way.