Schools as part of our urban landscape

| March 31, 2014

Schools are micro communities and need infrastructure and maintenance to function. Nicole Lewis argues that for the future harmony of our urban communities it is vital that schools consider their environmental footprint within their walls and beyond.

Schools are an essential yet demanding part of our urban landscape, often in areas where the opportunity for necessary growth is limited. With the population increasing and therefore the demand for places in schools and accommodation nearby, pressure is being placed on typically old and inadequate sites to grow to accommodate the needs for the community.

Where once an area was deemed suitable for a school to be located, urban sprawl today means that often school property ends up being compacted by the growing demands of the community around it as well as the school’s own needs to grow.

Big or small schools are micro communities, some could even be regarded as small towns, needing significant infrastructure and maintenance in order to cater for hundreds of people within school hours utilising all the amenities. After hours, as with a city, they fall silent with the expectation that all systems will be up and running and ready to operate by the next morning.

Although many schools encourage community engagement by inviting parent involvement in activities at the school, such as reading groups, working bees and fetes and fairs targeted at the local community to fundraise, they are often regarded as separate, almost detached spaces from those around them –albeit noisy, chaotic, polluting, and sometimes unsightly.

The management of schools needs to be carried out with the view of the school as an integral part of the community, threaded into the fabric of its surrounds. Its physical and functional impacts need to be viewed and assessed with a broad perspective, taking its community into consideration whilst still accommodating the needs of those in the school grounds.

As with a small town there are needs to be met – water, energy, waste, transport, amenities, food and green spaces, all of which have significant impacts both practically for the local community and environmentally. Schools are being encouraged if not expected to take these impacts into consideration today and into the future. By considering the community as the school, the students, their parents, local residents, government, business and industry, there is opportunity to best utilise resources, ideas and people to achieve sustainability goals with broad, mutually beneficial relationships and environmental outcomes.

In order to assist schools the Office of Environment and Heritage has created a SEMP (Schools Environmental Management Plan) as a guide for schools to follow. The purpose of the SEMP is to enable schools to create a vision regarding environmental education and environmental management and set out objectives and actions across the whole school in order to achieve the vision. The Plan encourages the school to look at its history in terms of sustainable practices, determine its priorities, develop objectives and undertake actions to achieve the objectives. A critical role of the SEMP is to help focus and extend the relationship that a school has with its community.

For the future harmony of our urban communities it is now imperative that schools address their environmental footprint within their walls and beyond, striving for a shared understanding of sustainability goals between the school and the wider community.