Where the Sidewalk Starts: The future of sustainability in LA starts with students

Parents snap photos as they walk their kids to school, high school students host recycling drives, Angelenos take advantage of Free Metro Day on their way to work and USC students gather to plant community gardens — these are all common sightings on a single day of the year: Earth Day. But as residents of the second largest city in the United States, we could be better using the resources, systems and infrastructure available to us and making more sustainable choices every day.

As students, it can feel like there’s no way to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the city we live in. City planning projects take years to develop and implement, not to mention the time spent creating policy and raising funds required to execute them. Urban infrastructure is often already set, and outdated systems can only be incrementally changed. But we can still make environmentally friendly, sustainable choices. We can utilize well-designed systems within our campus and our city to encourage the funding, development and innovation of these systems.

Simple everyday switches like sorting recyclable items out from trash or taking shorter showers also assist USC’s systems for waste disposal and water conservation. Because on-campus living covers the cost of major utilities, students can’t control how much the University spends on electricity but can cut their use down to lower the total energy spent.

However, beyond the boundaries of campus, USC students need to do a better job of using city infrastructure to make sustainable choices, particularly when it comes to transportation.

Most USC students don’t realize how intentionally Metro stations are positioned around campus and how far the Metro system extends. For $1.75, you can take the Expo Line to the Red Line to Universal Studios. And for $0.75 more, you can take the 460 Disneyland Express bus for a straight shot to Disneyland Park.

Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s DASH service is severely underused by USC students, as well. Line F stops at nine places around campus and goes all the way north to 3rd Street for $0.50, or $0.35 with a TAP card. By taking the bus more frequently and pushing for USC subsidized transit cards for students, we could cut back on the University’s carbon footprint and set a precedent of public transit use.

But L.A. is a sprawling city, and there are areas that are difficult to reach without transferring lines several times or spending the bulk of one’s day in transit. If you need to use a car, consider a ridesharing or carpooling to save gas and cut down on carbon dioxide emissions.

Another way to promote sustainable urban planning is by getting involved at every level of planning and policy. From encouraging the University to install more solar panels and invest in renewable energy to attending city hall meetings to voice support of more bike lanes, there are ways for students to assist in large-scale decisions toward sustainability.

The goal of good urban planning is to create a city that promotes the welfare of its residents, and this includes helping to preserve the environment. Considerations of eco-friendliness, sustainability and efficiency should not be relegated to one day a year. They should recur in our conversations about the future of our city. While an individual’s lifestyle changes may seem inconsequential in the vast stretch of L.A., they can be monumental in changing trends and systems. L.A. is trying to shift away from private transportation and consumerism toward a socially and environmentally conscious one, and as the future of L.A., our choices as students the first step.

Breanna de Vera is a sophomore writing about urban planning. She is also the opinion editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Where the Sidewalk Starts” ran Mondays.