I joined my colleague Ralph Buehler in co-leading our Sustainable Policy-Making and Planning in Europe study abroad this past summer (2016). It was a great experience, thanks in no small part to the fantastic students from both VT and the University of Virginia. Could not have asked for a better group. Ralph started with the group in Freiburg, Germany, and then took them through Switzerland to VT’s beautiful Steger Center in Riva San Vitale.
I met the group in Riva and, after some presentations and a good hike, took them to Venice, Italy. One of the highlights in Venice was a lecture and boat tour through the lagoon to look at its ecology and culture, and get a first-hand look at the massive MOSE project, which is being constructed to address the significant flooding issues. Both were organized through my old friends at Venice International University. For better or worse, the students saw the flooding first-hand when the flood warning system kicked into action and many squares and calle (i.e., ‘narrow streets’) turned into canals.
A night train from Venice to Vienna allowed for a short pit stop for schnitzel and a visit to the Belvedere museum.
We then made our way to Budapest, Hungary, my old stomping grounds. We visited the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe to learn about their wide variety of initiatives across the 17-country region. In addition to very informative presentations, the REC pulled out all the stops with a nice lunch in their state-of-the-art sustainable conference center, and afternoon BBQ in the garden. Hungary has been a major flashpoint in the refugee crisis; Dr. Frank Zsigo and Dr. Balázs Majtényi spoke to the group about the country’s response, and Hungarian politics and law in general. They also spoke about Roma rights issues. On the informal side, we visited many of my favorite places, including the Szechenyi Baths.
Our last stop was the industrial city of Ostrava, Czech Republic. This afforded us another opportunity to examine how ‘wicked sustainability challenges’ are being addressed in Europe. Highlights included: An in-depth tour of the Dolní Vítkovice industrial heritage complex; presentations at and an extensive tour of the Vitkovice Machinery Group; presentations from the regional Environment Agency; and a presentation from Anna Plošková , the director of the Čisté nebe (i.e., ‘clear skies’) environmental NGO.
You can read more about the study abroad through the eyes of the students on the course blog. I am also happy to note that we will be running the program again next summer, with Prof. Suzanne Moomaw from UVA re-joining the course faculty!