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Traffic issues drive discussion at first open forum on sustainability

It was a conversation. And that, they agreed, was a start.

Traffic and parking issues were at the top of the agenda for the first open forum on sustainability at Cornell on Nov. 8. The discussion, sponsored by the University Assembly, was the first of six planned summits to focus on creating a culture of sustainability throughout campus.

About 30 students, faculty and staff were in Willard Straight Hall's Memorial Room for the discussion, which featured Cornell sustainability coordinator Dean Koyanagi, members of the University Assembly and representatives from Cornell's Transportation and Mail Services.

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For Koyanagi, it was an opportunity to hear the community's concerns (which touched on parking issues, building more energy efficient buildings and buying from local farmers) -- and to brainstorm solutions.

He listened to criticism of the administration and said he understood the frustration of students and staff who feel unheard. But the administration, he argued, is open to creative solutions -- as long as they are financially sensible. "And they are making progress," he said. "It's this very slow, mechanical process, but it is happening."

As for making it happen faster, he encouraged participants to be proactive about generating ideas, doing thorough research and presenting the administration with options that are both environmentally sound and cost effective.

"Bring them in in a way that they're not scared off by it," he said. "It has to come from a lot of different people."

Greg Kilmer, assistant director of Mail and Special Transportation Services, added that he has seen Cornell's parking demand management program cited by other universities as a positive model. "Transportation has been very forward-thinking," he said. True, there is plenty of work still to be done -- but dialogue, he said, is key.

"So much of this process is communication," said Kilmer. "I think [the forum] is a big step. You have to start somewhere. It's a great beginning."

Julie Singer, a junior in the College of Engineering and a member of the University Assembly's committee on transportation, said the scope of the conversation was a little daunting. But she was optimistic.

"We've got a lot of work to do," she said. "But this was good."

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