The tone of the field school is thus critically optimistic – eschewing both debilitating pessimism and oblivious optimism about our present condition and future opportunities. We are buoyed by Hawken’s (2009) reflections that, “if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data... but if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic you haven’t got a pulse.” We intend the field school to inspire students to approach unflinchingly the daunting task of promoting robust, sustainable communities and the cultural-political barriers in the way. We seek to incite a bit of anger, but also hope and commitment to “confronting despair, power and incalculable odds to restore some semblance of grace, justice and beauty in this world” (Hawken 2009).
Meeting with planners, activists, scholars, and others grappling with the daunting social and ecological challenges faced by cities (in this case in Northern Europe) students are tasked with asking and answering increasingly more nuanced and qualified questions piercing the who, what, where, when, why and how of sustainability.
The field school focuses on "sustainable communities", but our interest is not in uncritically celebrating "sustainability". Students are tasked with unpacking how this or related terms e.g. "livability", "resilience", "net-positive" have been understood, struggled over, implemented, and / or resisted on the ground in the specific, complex urban contexts we visit. We seek to learn from inspiring efforts to cultivate better urban living, but not without asking piercing questions after the who, what, where, when, why, and how of sustainability.