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A Secret Garden

Campus | November 27, 2012

When walking near Lewis Hall or grabbing meals from Hodgdon, most Tufts students wonder about the seemingly endless construction that lies behind those large green fences. These obstructions, while inconvenient to many students’ daily lives, are the results of a necessary environmental planning effort of which most Tufts students are unaware.

Rain gardens are becoming increasingly important due to changes in the local environment. Over the past thirty years, the local atmosphere has retained four percent more moisture in the air. While this may not seem like an impressive figure, it has resulted in significantly higher volumes of rainfall during storms, and higher volume makes it difficult for the soil to absorb the water at a fast enough rate to prevent large amounts of run-off. Excess storm water, which is typically full of toxins like pesticides and hydrocarbons, can cause sewer system overloads, erosion, and the pollution of natural waterways. Recently, this issue has overwhelmed the water drainage systems that the Medford and Somerville municipalities have developed to manage storm run-offs. Both towns have expressed growing concern about the consequences of the large amount of storm water drainage leaving the Tufts campus. The rain garden will work as a ground filtration buffer, absorbing excess storm water and its pollutants.

The downhill rain garden is the school’s first active step towards aiding the local water drainage systems. Director of Facilities Services Bob Burns and Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning professor Scott Horsley have been collaborating to create and expand the rain garden initiative. Horsley, an expert on hydrology, planned the design and specifications of the rain garden. Meanwhile, Tufts’ Facilities Services department has helped fund and develop the project. The department plans on developing more of these systems across the campus. Once constructed, the facility plans on installing a placard, educating observers about the environmental implications of the system.

While the rain garden serves a clear environmental benefit, there is an enormous lapse in student awareness about the project. Most students on campus are not at all conscious of these specific efforts for environmental sustainability. For example, sophomore Kyle Volpe believes that it is simply another part of the school’s desire to “beautify our campus.” Freshman Betsey Kirkland mentions that she “had no idea about the project” and that “despite the construction she never wondered what it was all about.” After learning about the rain garden, she recommended that students could get involved in the construction of the project. Shocked at the lack of advertising, she suggested that the school do a better job to inform students about what is going on behind the bothersome fences.

The growing rain garden initiative would be an excellent opportunity for this type of involvement. In his environmental planning courses, Scott Horsley has even been explaining this initiative to his students as an example of hydrologic sustainability. Although Horsley is educationally promoting the project, perhaps students could participate in a more active way. While the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System estimated that Tufts is a 62.73% sustainable campus, which is just short of its highest ranking for colleges, Tufts could still promote involvement in environmental projects more aggressively to a wide range of the student population. These initiatives do not necessarily need to be as scientifically focused as Horsley’s project. Activism, like that in Professor Ammons’ English courses, is an excellent example of efforts that involve a wider student population with varying interests. While the Urban and Environmental Planning students work on more technical projects, International Relations students could engage in environmental negotiation efforts outside of the classroom.

While this appeal could be helpful to developing a diverse student interest in environmentalism, many students may not be likely to commit to addressing environmental issues. Senior Ben Limoges admits that, “it would probably be a hard sell to get me actively involved in a project like the rain garden. The less time it takes out of my day, the more likely it would be that I get involved.” Limoges illuminates a realistic tendency of many non-active citizens; most people would probably not go too far out of their way to contribute to environmental projects, especially if they are time-consuming. Should environmentalism be left solely to the environmentalists? While there is some doubt that uninvolved students will become more active in the green movement, this does not necessarily mean that our community’s awareness programs matter less. There is always the chance that at least one student will find the sustainability issues interesting and will make the time to engage in change.