Bonjour Marseille!

Our last big trip was to Marseille, France to study poverty-stricken areas called the French Banlieues which exist in the suburbs and contrast that to the United States ghettos that exist in the inner city. Before we left we read several articles about the reasons why the riots in 2005 all over France did not gain a strong fight in Marseille with many of the young people. The main reason for this is because many children of immigrants see themselves as Marseillians, identifying themselves with the city rather than their homeland. With this unique identification it creates an irreplaceable culture in Marseille. 103

The European Union has taken notice to this unique culture as has identified Marseille as the European Capital of Culture in 2013. This means that in 2013 Marseille will host hundreds of lively, cultural events all year long throughout the city. To prepare for this huge event, mainly the port area is under construction to be renovated. I knew in advance that the city would be under construction but I do not think I prepared myself for what I would see when I arrived.

When we first arrived in the city of Marseille the bus could not find the hostel so they dropped us off and we walked around with the driver. There was trash everywhere and the under privileged lingered in the streets staring at us. As Americans we stuck out like sore thumbs. When we finally arrived at our hostel, it was about 5 minutes away from the port and 2 minutes from a main square with tons of restaurants with outdoor seating. This main square so close to the port it was surprising that this area was clean and not under construction. This little square would be a rare to find in other areas of the city. 011

After a day to relax and tour the city on our own, Saturday morning kicked off early with a guided tour of the renovated business port area about 20 minutes away from where we were staying. When we approached the area you could practically see the divide that this beautiful old port building created separating the old city to this new version that was being built. We went in this building full of character that has been renovated to a new office building, this building was amazing but it was very empty. We learned that many businesses are not coming to Marseille because of the politics, rather the mafia, which is integrated in many businesses within the city. There is already a huge skyscraper that our tour guide refers to as the “ugly skyscraper,” that is only used to half of its capacity and there are plans to build a second one close by. The idea that if the infrastructure exist the businesses will come is an interesting concept because it leaves a lingering hope that the city will blossom but if it doesn’t it will leave a sting of what could have been. It will be interesting to see what happens to Marseille in the next ten years and see which direction it heads.



When we returned to Switzerland, we sat down as a class to discuss what our thoughts were of Marseille. Many of us complained about how dirty the city was with trash everywhere in huge piles along the streets near the port and the construction that was everywhere. One of my classmates pointed out that we were only complaining about the aesthetic aspects of the city not looking deeper into the aspects that make the city the way it is such as the people or the culture. I honestly wish that I could have taken in more of the culture but the second I stepped off the bus and looked around I was surprised by the condition the people were living in. I think that if the city was cleaned up and people had respect for the physical environment they lived in, it would improve the quality of life. A lesson I learned from Switzerland is that if the land is maintained and cared for the living environment will be sustained for future generations to come and improve the quality of life for all.

Bern, land of the bears

For my first big trip out of the villa all of us went to Bern, Switzerland, the capital. According to legend, the name comes from the first animal that was hunted in the area and to this day there is still a bear pit with live bears in it. I spoke to a local store keeper in town who told me that two bears were gifts from Russia. Wonder what Switzerland gives in return as a gift? Swiss cheese can’t really even compare to receiving bears as a present!

We arrived in Bern Sunday afternoon and decided to explore the city and the first thing we all did was visit the river that naturally shapes the town. Now one might think, what is so fascinating about a river? Let me explain. This river moves rapidly at two meters a second, a rate so fast that there are signs that tell you when to get off because if you don’t escape in certain areas you could be in big trouble! This river is used during the week for commuters to travel to work by putting their belongings in water-sealed bags and float. I had the opportunity to witness this when I was there and saw two teenagers in their underwear floating down the river with these bags and they got off where we were standing. It was an interesting sight to see!

After a night to relax and tour the city, Monday morning kicked off with a big start, we were meeting with the U.S Ambassador of Switzerland, Donald Beyer from Virginia.  Our introductions were slightly different than what I expected. Since many of my classmates were from Virginia he asked several in depth questions about where we were from and asked specifically where I was from in West Virginia. He even made a joke that if he was ever governor of Virginia the first thing he would do is use the Nation Guard and invade West Virginia and take back the state. Hey, I wouldn’t necessarily complain, I would get instate tuition if that happened!

Mr. Beyer began with a brief overview of what his job entails and its wide range of diplomacy from visiting with Hilary Clinton at the airport to working with Swiss banks to prevent Americans from hiding their assets in their banks with their intentional knowledge. Then we drove right into our studies on sustainability and aspects Switzerland has on sustainability that could be used in the United States. We discussed the very integrated train system in Switzerland that can take you almost anywhere but in the United States a train system similar to this would be very difficult to implement because the country is so large. But, the train system that is implemented in the United States ships mostly goods east to west but nothing ships goods north and south and that is why there are so many trucks on I-81. If only I could build a train company that could ship goods north and south I could be a billionaire!

We continued to talk about how the Swiss take into consideration future generations when planning. This is why they intentionally live so close together and builds homes that are built to last. Many of the buildings here are older than anything you could find in America and these buildings will continue to last for centuries more. In contrast, in the United States sprawl is so prominent because many are seeking the American Dream, a single family home with a white picket fence. These homes are built to last for a short amount of time before they need to be completely renovated from the ground up. Even the suburbs are built so you are forced to drive your car if you want to go anywhere. This method is not sustainable and will be the downfall of the urban environment we live in. One last difference I noticed was how clean everything is here in Switzerland. The pride the people take in their environment is extremely noticeable. There is not any trash just laying around in the roads or floating in the river anywhere which is extremely unlike the environment we live in the United States.

Our second meeting was with four members of the Swiss government Daniel Wachter and Daniel Dubas, both of the Federal Office for Spatial Development (ARE), Stefan Ruchti of the Federal Office for the Environment, and Lorenz Kurtz of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. All week we had been learning about the green economy, decoupling, innovation and weak and strong sustainability all of which these people put into practice within their jobs. What I found most interesting was after the meeting we were discussing if it is possible for these ideas to work in the United States and culturally Americans are just not ready to change at this point in time for these ideas to work. I think that it will take something substantial such as oil to deplete entirely for us to change our ways as a nation.

Our last meeting was on Tuesday where we went for a visit at the University of Bern. We met with Fabian Streiff, a Ph.D candidate in economic geography, who gave a presentation on photovoltaics, an alternative form of energy. Currently, the Swiss government is trying to phase out the use of nuclear power by 2050 so alternative energy will be required eventually. Fabian’s presentation was extremely interesting because he predicts that photovoltaics will be up and coming in Switzerland in the next twenty years. The very last thing that we did was take a tour of the campus of the University of Bern. We learned that many who choose to come to a university in Switzerland come when they are at the age of 19 so they find friends to live with in apartments within the city. The campus isn’t your ideal campus, there aren’t any dorms and the buildings are spacialy plotted around the city.

Bern is a beautiful city full of adventure in the river, academics in the University of Bern and splender in the roads where the markets open on weekdays so pedestrians can walk by and shop. I would love to visit Bern again but next time I would like to brush up on some German so I could converse better with the locals.

Creating an educational experience

As exciting as going on trips and exploring Switzerland, the primary reason why I am here is to expand my knowledge of sustainability and how Europe handles this detailed and expansive topic. On Wednesday we each picked a topic that we found interesting and would like to present to the class on Friday.

The topic I chose was decoupling. By just looking at the word for a few moments one can already grasp the fact that decoupling is the separation of something. In the sustainable world context, decoupling is separating economic growth and environmental pressures and having both entities exist without relying or influencing on the other. When an economy is able to sustain growth without having a negative impact on the environment it is said to be decoupled. The reason why decoupling is important is because at the rapid rate the economy is expanding it uses a lot of resources such as oil, water and metal so if you can take the negative impact off the environment it will be more beneficial in the long term. I read excerpts from a book called Cents and Sustainability[1] where the authors lay out four principles to achieve the final goal of decoupling. The first step is called regeneration which is when renewable resources should be used efficiently but not exceeds the long-term use set by nature. Another way of describing this would be through maximum sustainable yield which is maintaining the amount of renewable resources by taking out a certain amount and having it replace itself over time. The second principle is substitution which is using non-renewable resources efficiently but limited to amounts that could be offset by substituting a renewable resource for other forms of capital. An example of this in our modern world is an electric vehicle that uses gasoline in limited quantities. Assimilation is the third principle which is releasing of substances into the environment that are below levels previously set that protect humans and the environment’s health. Lastly, the final principle states that effects on the environment that are irreversible need to be avoided at all costs.

Decoupling was created to be a solution to sustainability. The main way for this to work would be through government regulation by setting standard on how much pollution can be released into the air and heavily regulation on the consumption of natural resources. I believe that corporations have a huge influence in government regulations in the United States and it would be very difficult for regulation such as this to go into effect. But, possibly with an outcry from various environmental groups it might be possible for change to exist.

[1] Smith, Michael H., Karlson C. Hargroves, and Cheryl Desha. Cents and Sustainability: Securing Our Common Future by Decoupling Economic Growth and Environmental Pressures. Washington D.C: National Edge Project, 2010. Introduction, Chapter 2,3. Print.

Ciao Switzerland

It has been a few days since my arrival Monday morning in Switzerland but an eventful few days! I flew into Milan, Italy airport and thankfully my bags made the long journey with me as well! With the help of several polite Italians and Swiss, I discovered my way and managed to take a bus, a train and a long walk through town and finally made it to my new home for the next few weeks! The villa is even more beautiful than I expected! Most of the ceilings are painted with beautiful old art work that includes birds, flowers and stars. Plus there is a balcony on the front of the house that I have now claimed as my own. I sit out there and read, listen to the church bells and chat with my fellow classmates. My very first day I relaxed by spending time at the lake in town and visiting the local grocery store and wow, I thought I worked at a small grocery store, this whole store is the size of the front end alone at Food Lion. It is extremely tiny! Not only is the grocery store different but there is only one of everything in town. There is one ATM (but no bank), one pharmacy, one post office, one convenient store several small restaurants and two churches. So far I still have not found a single gas station in this whole town. There are a decent amount of cars on the road so I am still stumped as to where they get there gas from. In the small town in West Virginia we had one gas station in town and 5 more within a five minute drive in any direction. It is interesting to notice small differences like this that shape our everyday lives.