State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

MS Students Focus on Newark’s Sustainability Action Plan


On Oct. 19, MS in Sustainability Management students in Professor Lynnette Widder’s SUMA K4162: Responsibility and Resilience in the Built Environment class participated in a field trip to Newark, N.J. The trip marked the beginning of the students’ final term project, into which they will integrate the information and ideas introduced in this course. Working in groups, they will develop a geographical and thematic focus for a proposal that aligns with Newark’s recently articulated sustainability goals. First-hand experience with the place is particularly important in Newark; given the city’s history of conflict, demolition, disinvestment and downtown redevelopment that has only rarely benefited the city’s full-time residents.

Newark’s first European settlers, who left Connecticut’s liberal religious climate to establish the city in 1666 at what is now the intersection of Broad and Market Streets, arrived via the Passaic. The Passaic powered Newark’s industrialization – its Ballantine brewery, its tanneries, its factories. In the 20th century, the river became a sink for new kinds of waste, most infamously dioxins dumped during the making at Agent Orange at the Diamond Shamrock plant just downriver from downtown. Diamond Shamrock was infamous for sending employees out on rafts to rake down piles of dioxin once they broke the water level. The site is now sealed, but clean-up is still being litigated.

Before the two hour boat tour, the group was hosted by Damon Rich, founder of the Center for Urban Pedagogy and Planning Director/Chief Urban Designer for the City of Newark, at the gold-domed City Hall. Damon described how the policies around urban renewal had led to wholesale destruction of much of Newark’s inner city and older industrial areas in the 1960s, leaving development last for investors that never arrived. He also described the politics around the city’s financial and regulatory relationship to New Jersey, in which it is the largest city with 300,000 people in 24 square miles.

Damon’s office was responsible for issuing Newark’s new Sustainability Action Plan this summer, which keys such central issues as emissions, waste management, water and food supply to Newark’s particular situation. The port’s proximity to the city means that the location of distribution centers and trucking route has immediate public health implications: few inner city families have never dealt with childhood asthma. Newark’s established scrap metal salvage industry is an opportunity for new waste management methods to address both job creation and environmental issues. Urban agriculture is being stimulated to address both food desserts and the city’s underdeveloped tree canopy.


The group also visited the new Riverfront Park and its “orange sticks.” The product of community activism, groundroot-focused planning work and a coalition of diverse funding organizations, this park is a harbinger of the way sustainability and quality of life can transform Newark’s waterfront.

“While most cities noted for their sustainability advocacy are drawing upon affluent, service sector-powered populations, Newark is working to empower the economic opportunities of its less wealthy population by means of sustainability,” said Professor Widder. “Sustainability as an agent of positive social change can really become the students’ focus, based upon what they learned during the tour.”

This semester, Professor Widder’s students will develop group projects along the waterfront at locations of their choosing to address some of the ideas put forth in the Sustainability Action Plan. Their projects will be shared with students from Damon Rich’s course at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, who are also working in Newark; and with Jae Shin and Damon’s students at the Parsons School of Design Strategies, who are developing an educational program on sustainability for Newark. The students met and shared expertise at a “mixer” held at Parsons earlier this fall.

The M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Continuing Education, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. The program requires the successful completion of 36 credit points. Those credit points are divided among five comprehensive content areas: integrative sustainability management, economics and quantitative analysis, the physical dimensions of sustainability, the public policy environment of sustainability management, and general and financial management. Visit our website to learn more.    

Columbia campus skyline with text Columbia Climate School Class Day 2024 - Congratulations Graduates

Congratulations to our Columbia Climate School MA in Climate & Society Class of 2024! Learn about our May 10 Class Day celebration. #ColumbiaClimate2024

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