University City hosts 2013 Earth Day event
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Friday, Apr. 26, 2013

University City hosts 2013 Earth Day event

No one seems to have noticed that Charlotte canceled its big uptown “Clean and Green” Earth Day event in 2011. Organizers blame reduced funding, banker's green trumping Mother Earth green.

For University City, this depressing news has a bright side: The University City Partners’ “Green Goats and Gardens” event this year was April 27, and UNC Charlotte's recycling program hosted its own on-campus Earth Day event April 24, making University City the Charlotte region’s unofficial keeper of the Earth Day flame in 2013.

Maybe it is time to recycle an intriguing idea derailed a decade ago: Why can't UNCC, one of the greenest spots in the Queen City, host an annual, citywide, sustainable Earth Day celebration worthy of the name?

This almost happened in the early 2000s, when handful of green-minded grassroots leaders met as participants in the University City Community Building Initiative, a leadership training program sponsored by the YMCA and the Lee Institute. At the top of their brainstorming list was organizing a community Earth Day hosted by UNCC.

The unfortunate uptown cancellation also opens the door to revisiting an intriguing idea derailed a decade ago: Why can’t UNC Charlotte, one of the greenest spots in the Queen City, host a major annual Earth Day celebration worthy of the name?

That almost happened in the early 2000s, when a handful of green-minded grass-roots leaders met as participants in the University City Community Building Initiative, a leadership training program sponsored by the YMCA and the Lee Institute.

At the top of the brainstorming list was organizing a real, citywide Earth Day at UNC Charlotte. At the time, Charlotte had no official Earth Day event, and the University City area lacked cohesion and a sense of community. Celebrating Earth Day at UNCC seemed an ideal way to address both challenges.

In those days the university hosted a tremendously popular open-air concert for the 4th of July featuring The Charlotte Symphony and a fireworks display. Why not bring the community together in a similar way for Earth Day every spring?

Meanwhile, another group of organizers with ties to Central Piedmont Community College and long-established environmental groups proposed an Earth Day event on the CPCC Central Campus uptown. At the same time, Mecklenburg County organized a competing environment-oriented spring event, dubbed “Clean and Green.” Suddenly Charlotte went from nothing to having two dueling Earth Days.

Eventually, the two groups joined forces and organized a combined Earth Day festival that kept the “Clean and Green” name. Held on Elizabeth Avenue, with its spectacular view of Charlotte’s bank towers as a backdrop, “Clean and Green” became something of a gathering of the clans, Charlotte-style: Everyone from Duke Power to neo-pagan drummers came out to proclaim their “greenness.”

A couple of years later, University City Partners organized a separate event, called “Green Goats and Gardens.” It took place in a delightfully wooded back corner of the vast University Research Park, like an urban chicken coop hidden behind an upscale condo.

It basically followed the same “greeny-preneurial” trade fair format as “Clean and Green,” but on a smaller, folksier scale, with a charming mix of kids’ activities, live music, green entrepreneurs and, yes, real live goats.

Since University City has become Charlotte's de facto Earth Day host this year, why not step up our game next year and make UNCC the official host in 2014?

America's April 22 date for Earth Day was first proposed as a “teach in” on environmental issues at U.S. university campuses in the wake of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, which helped spark the modern American environmental movement. I was an undergrad at University of California at Santa Barbara at the time, and will never forget the dying seabirds and the foul stench and ugly mess polluting one of the most beautiful beachfronts in the world.

UNCC could help restore the vital educational component to any Earth Day celebration. Environmental issues are complex and fascinating – the ideal challenge for a university community to tackle together.

A final suggestion: Forget “clean and green.” Caring for the Earth and our environment is one of the most important tasks we share as a community and a nation, perhaps the most important challenge we face. Cutesy names don't cut it.

Let’s call our celebration “Earth Day.”

Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Don? Email him at unicity3@gmail.com.

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