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Saturday June 18th, 2011

Posted at 12:00pm

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I left the auditorium at the University of Windsor’s LeBel visual arts building Thursday night engulfed in the lightly spiced aroma of a parting gift from the Green Corridor Organization; a cardboard fruit basket bulging with soil, holding thriving rosemary and sage plants, a fitting gift from an organization dedicated to greening Windsor. The sounds of excited conversation filled the auditorium and spilled out into the hallway, and there was a lot to be excited about. Students in the interdisciplinary Green Corridor course displayed the achievements of the term’s work on truly progressive and innovative projects dedicated to moving Windsor in artistic and environmentally sustainable ways.

The Green Corridor is both a course at the University of Windsor, as well and a non-profit organization whose initiating goal was to transform the sea of concrete that marks the entrance to Canada from Detroit into a beautiful, leafy landscape with regenerative green zones, green roof elevations, an educational wetland and an urban nature park; a proper welcome to our magnificent section of the Earth. The course is the collaborative outcome of international artist, Noel Harding and University of Windsor visual arts professor, Rod Strickland, and the participation of students from a variety of programs.

I had the pleasure to speak with Harding on presentation night, surrounded by the inspiring inventions that have resulted from the course, but my first introduction to the artist and inventor came from one of his students, who pointed him out from across the auditorium, heralding him as “kind of a big deal,” and going on to detail his impressive work setting up a natural and artistic wetland based water filtration system along the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto. Despite being “kind of a big deal” however, I found Harding to be refreshingly personable and accessible, witty and just bursting with magnificently unusual ideas for how to create a greener, more energy-efficient Windsor.

Harding, who considers his role in the course to be as a mentor to, rather than director of the students involved, explained that the power of such an interdisciplinary course is that it brings together a variety of unique perspectives, understandings and aptitudes.  In addition, says Harding, the course provides students with the opportunity for a more well-rounded learning experience. In bringing the projects and experiments into being, an engineer for example, must step outside of the technical requirements of his/her specialization and consider the other necessary elements of a project like gathering the materials in an environmentally friendly manner, and covering the costs. In the course, students are responsible for acquiring the materials for their projects of their own initiative through a combination of fundraising and donations. In doing so, the course creates a more comprehensive view for students of the requirements of completing such projects in the public sphere.

A couple of the projects centered around the concept of creating “mobile gardens” to optimize growing conditions for plants in urban settings. Rather than be limited by the conditions of any stationary position on a small plot, this initiative seeks to give plants wheels, as it were, by placing them on a sun seeking robotic vehicle that enables the plants to follow the sunlight. A small scale version of the robotic plant platform was on hand to demonstrate how this works. The model followed the light of a flashlight around the table and the students working on this project explained that when the sensor on either side detects light, that wheel will lock, causing the platform to pivot and the plants to be remain bathed in full sunlight throughout the day. Another project called the “Flower Train Garden” also worked on the plant mobilization concept by perching plants on the cars of a train powered by wind turbine and solar panel energy. The train moves along the tracks to obtain optimal sunlight and water. The main difference with this one is that the flower train is that the extent to which the plants can travel is bounded by the track, allowing for movement within a designated areas only.

The “Earthship” project explored alternative ways to insulate and heat indoor spaces and developed a plans for greenhouse constructed from tires, offering a useful way to recycle the notoriously problematic product. When the tires are stuffed with soil, Jon Nguyen, the project coordinator explains, they absorb the sunlight’s heat and retain it, allowing the indoor space to be warmed. The group experimented with other insulation methods as well, using cans and recycled multi-coloured glass bottles to create air pockets that would capture the heat. The unique outcome of a wall insulated with the glass bottles is that they glow in the sun, like rows of colourful lights.

The Guerilla team “chair bombed” Windsor by placing furniture crafted from reclaimed materials, such as a paper maché couch and chairs and benches constructed from recycled crates and wooden boards in public spaces throughout the city. The idea was to gauge the population’s reactions to the unique constructions and to “redefine the experience of public infrastructure.” Plans for an innovative bus shelter were devised and a small scale model was created. The shelter would be larger and more comfortable than the current ones, featuring a green roof, a solar-powered LED light inside and seating and tables constructed from recycled materials. Such a shelter would encourage the use of public transportation by making the experience more enjoyable.

Students on bench constructed from recycled materials

The response from students participating in the Green Corridor course is overwhelmingly positive, and the numbers of students interested in taking the course has jumped from just enough to make the quotient of students required to offer the class, to having as many students on the waiting list as are enrolled in the course. The key objective of the Green Corridor Organization is to educate and inform people about environmental issues and solutions, and to provide a space for research to be conducted. By becoming engaged in inventing creative and inspiring alternatives to problematic lifestyle choices we may all become ambassadors for a healthy, sustainable future, and, as the interdisciplinary course demonstrates, in combining our many unique perspectives there is no end to the creative possibilities for realizing that common goal. For more information on The Green Corridor Organization and its projects, past, present and future visit: greencorridor.ca or join them on facebook

 

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