Engineering Sustainable Change
By: Shelby Sommer
For the past seven years I’ve volunteered on the City of Fort Collins Art in Public Places board and have seen countless projects work their way through the design and approval process to brighten our community. Whether it’s the whimsical Pianos About Town or the adorable Pedestrian Pavers, I leave each board meeting feeling inspired by and grateful for the many artists and design teams who bring creativity, innovation, and unique perspectives to projects and places across the city.
Many see sustainability and the arts as separate, but related topics. I do not – I see the arts as a missing dimension in so many sustainability pursuits. So often we focus on the environmental outcomes and economic performance of sustainability efforts—it can be easy to overlook or discount how sustainability messages are conveyed, how these elements work together, and how they make us feel. Arts provide unique opportunities to connect people with topics in accessible and often unexpected ways, and help create emotional connections to projects and places. Furthermore, tapping into the creative spirit helps us find new ways of looking at complex problems and inspires, unique, multi-faceted approaches.
As I get to “look under the hood” when approving and recommending public art projects and those coming online soon, I realize that many of our local artists are already practicing and teaching about sustainability in the most imaginative ways. Since these stories often go untold, I wanted to share a few that have captured my attention recently.
Take, for example, Upcyclone, by artist Tim Upham. At first glance, this sculpture is a large, unusual tornado of color oddly placed in the middle of the busy intersection at Vine Drive and Shield Street. But this piece tells a sustainability story of its own – one that involves collaboration with other local artists (Andrew Bohn, Tood Kundla, and Rick Upham), use of recycled bicycle frames from local shops, and continuous movement around the newly installed roundabout. When I see the piece, I am reminded of our City’s commitments to accommodating all modes of transportation into infrastructure projects, including bicycles. I see reuse of materials that might otherwise end up in our landfill; I see those passing by it taking a brief moment to pause and process what it might mean; and I see mentorship and pride in a design team that worked together to create a unique gift for their community.
Another project that I can’t wait to check out in coming months is the Utility Administration Building at 222 Laporte Avenue. Artist Andy Dufford has designed two projects at this site that ooze sustainability and inspiration. First, energy wonks will enjoy checking out the reliefs in the concrete retaining walls in front of the building. These reliefs illustrate different energy sources (coal, sun, and wind) and walk observers through a story of how each source is transformed into electricity. Second, water and land use enthusiasts will be captivated by stone columns at the entryway of the building that will present two unique views of the Poudre River watershed. The panels will represent the path and topography of the river, and the river element itself will be illuminated by LED lighting. One of the panels will illustrate the ecological functions and processes of the river, and the other will tell the story of human uses of water across the watershed.
While Fort Collins is undoubtedly a special place in terms of our public investment in the arts, I think these projects and stories can inspire anyone working in the sustainability arena – whether it’s ski areas, educational institutions, private enterprises, governmental entities, utilities, or others. I challenge you to engage and seek the support of creative minds to help weave together stories of environmental outcomes, economic results, and social progress with a common thread called art.
About the Author — Shelby brings more than 9 years of experience in community planning and sustainable development to the Brendle Group team. As a local government planner early in her career, she led multi-disciplinary teams through the development review process. More recently, she worked as a planning consultant for a range of clients including municipalities, counties, and regional organizations, where she focused on long range and strategic planning to enhance community vibrancy and sustainability.
At Brendle Group, Shelby manages and supports a variety of sustainability plans and projects for clients including governmental entities, universities, and the ski industry. She is a seasoned meeting facilitator and is skilled at crafting strategies to engage stakeholders and inform the public in ways that are meaningful and fun. With a degree in environmental design, Shelby provides her clients with a suite of analytical, spatial and design skills including the development of evaluation tools, document design, and creation of geographic information system (GIS) maps.