“Cultivating the Wild” Essay Reprinted in The Leopold Outlook

Warm tidings on a cold December morning: “Cultivating the Wild on Chicago’s South Side,” an essay I co-wrote about Eden Place Nature Center with Michael Howard for the book Wildness: Relations of People and Place (U. Chicago P., 2017), has been reprinted in the Fall 2017 issue of The Leopold Outlook magazine.

Photo: Gavin Van Horn

Check out the magazine’s back issues here and learn more about the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s work. And many thanks to my co-author Michael Howard as well as the co-editors of Wildness, Gavin Van Horn and John Hausdoerffer, for encouraging us to take on this project.

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Chicago Agreement on Climate & Community: Local Voices

A week before the Chicago Climate Community Forum was held on 3 Dec 2017 at the Field Museum, I was fortunate to participate in the filming of the newly released Chicago Agreement on Climate & Community, which debuted at the forum attended by over 2,000 people last Sunday. Here’s the video, which brings to life the text of the Agreement.

The Agreement is a living document which you can read, provide feedback on, and sign (if you so wish) yourself and/or on behalf of an organization. Please share this video and links with people you know as we build a movement to mitigate climate change here throughout the Chicago region.

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Chicago Community Climate Forum: Sunday 12/3 at the Field Museum

pdf version

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Oxfam Hunger Banquet Today @RooseveltU 1pm

I’m honored to deliver a guest faculty lecture at this event today at Roosevelt University. Please come and engage in a meaningful conversation about how food insecurity is prevalent and relates to our community while you learn more about issues of hunger, sustainability and how you can help. Please register for the event here.

Sponsored by the Black Student Union and the RU Counseling Center, the Oxfam Hunger Banquet provides a chance for us to address the severity of food insecurity and starvation as it relates to our community, and will assist in fostering a community of care that will allow us to join in the fight against inequality, injustice, and oppression. Oxfam is a global organization working to end the injustice of poverty.

Posted in Agriculture, Chicago, Community, Education, Events, Faculty, Food, Roosevelt, Social justice, Sustainability, Urban ecology | Comments Off on Oxfam Hunger Banquet Today @RooseveltU 1pm

Register Now for Spring/Summer 2018 Classes @RooseveltU

Here’s a cheerful autumnal thought: advising and registration are now ongoing (since Nov 2nd) for the Spring & Summer 2018 semesters here at @RooseveltU. The Sustainability Studies program is offering a wide range of courses and we’re planning two exciting semesters of learning, research, and campus outreach projects!

Undergraduate students: please look over the Spring 2018 schedule using this coursefinder, check your remaining course requirements, and email or call your assigned academic advisor with your planned schedule and any questions you have about your upcoming classes. Your advisor will help you craft your schedule and provide you with an RU Access registration code so you can register.

Sustainability Studies courses offered in Spring 2018:

ACP 110 Primary Texts (MW 11am-12:15pm, Bryson)*
SUST 210 Sustainable Future (TTh 11am-12:15pm, Pickren)
SUST 220 Water (12-week online, 1/29-4/27, Jones)
SUST 230 Food (W 6-8:30pm, Gerberich)
SUST 240 Waste (8-week online, 3/12-5/14, Gerberich)§
SUST/ACP 250 The Sustainable University (M 2-4:30pm, Bryson)◊
SUST 310 Energy & Climate Change (T 2-4:30pm, Pickren)
SUST 320 Sprawl, Transportation, & Planning (12-week online, 1/29-4/27, Pickren)
SUST 330 Biodiversity (8-week online, 1/16-3/9, Hoffman)§
SUST 340 Policy, Law, & Ethics (Th 2-4:30pm, Hoffman)
SUST 395 Sustainability Studies Internship (by arrangement)

* First Year Seminars are open to new full-time undergrads with 12 or fewer hours in transfer credit.
§ These 8-week accelerated online courses are open to all students and synced with the Flex-Track adult degree calendar. They may be taken back-to-back.
◊ Students may register for either ACP 250 (Grounds for Change credit) or SUST 250 (Sustainability Studies credit).

Sustainability Studies courses offered in Summer 2018:

SUST 210 Sustainable Future (8-week online, 5/29-7/25, Pickren)
SUST 360 Writing Urban Nature (1-week intensive, 5/21-25, Bryson)
SUST 390 Special Topics: Rooftop Garden (on-campus + online, 5/29-7/25, Gerberich)

November is a super busy time of the academic year, but be sure to make a little time to get in touch with your advisor to sign up for the classes you need! My advisees should be sure to check this Advising Resources page here on my faculty website.

Before you email me:

  • Check your remaining course requirements for your designated major, minor, etc. in Degree Works (or, if you started prior to Fall 2015, on your signed curriculum checksheet).
  • Review the online course schedule for class availability and draft a schedule that will work for you.
  • Make sure you don’t have any holds on your registration by checking RU Access.
  • Check your RU student email for important announcements from me or the university.

Include in your email:

  • Your name, student ID, declared major, and phone number
  • The classes you wish to take in the upcoming semester, including dept, course number, and title
  • Any questions or concerns you have
Posted in Classes, Education, Roosevelt, Students, Sustainability | Comments Off on Register Now for Spring/Summer 2018 Classes @RooseveltU

Wasted Water and Environmental Injustice in Chicago

This fall semester, students in my SUST 220 Water class have been studying our American obsession with bottled water, which comes at the expense of (among other things) proper investment in and maintenance of public drinking water infrastructure. While taxpayer-funded repairs to underground water infrastructure are expensive and politically unpopular, the bottled water industry continues to thrive and grow: the International Bottled Water Association reported industry wholesale revenues of more than $14.2 billion in 2015 alone.

The Chicago Region is blessed with one of the best drinking water sources in the world: Lake Michigan, which supplies water to 163 Chicago-area communities.

Water intake crib off Chicago’s shoreline (photo: A. Perez, Chgo Tribune)

But as this important investigative report published online in the Chicago Tribune reveals, billions of gallons of treated drinking water are wasted each year, while communities pay millions of $ for water that never reaches their taps. Meanwhile, wide disparities in drinking water rates, combined with differential amounts of waste via leaks, disproportionately saddle poor and minority communities with extra costs they cannot afford.

Thus does neglected urban infrastructure meet environmental injustice in 21st century America, here along the southern rim of Lake Michigan.


Patrick M. O’Connell, Cecilia Reyes, Ted Gregory and Angela Caputo. (25 Oct 2017). Billions Lost, Millions Wasted: Why Chicago-area Residents Pay Millions for Water that Never Reachers Their Taps. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from

——. (25 Oct 2017). Same Lake, Unequal Rates: Why Our Water Rates Are Surging — and Why Black and Poor Suburbs Pay More. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://graphics.chicagotribune.com/news/lake-michigan-drinking-water-rates/index.html.


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Major Madness: Student Event @RooseveltU on Thursday, Oct. 19th, 1-3pm

I’ll be attending this upcoming “Major Madness” event (share the pdf of the above poster) as an ACP 101 first year seminar faculty member and as department chair of sociology and sustainability studies. All students are welcome (and my 101 students are required) to attend this event and learn about our various undergrad majors here at Roosevelt. Free food? That’s a nice bonus!


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Scenes from the Rooftop on RU’s Service Day 2017

This past Thursday, September 14th, folks from all corners of the university headed up to the 5th floor Rooftop Garden at RU’s Wabash Building in Chicago to get some fresh air, pull weeds, enrich the planting beds, harvest herbs, and sow winter rye and butterfly weed for the coming cold season. We also enjoyed some fine views of the downtown Chicago skyline, a definite benefit of working at altitude in what one volunteer called “Roosevelt’s very own Secret Garden.”

As part of Service Day, which concluded the 2nd annual American Dream Reconsidered Conference, students, alumni, faculty, staff, and administrators all pitched in on this effort — plus we were graced with a visit from President Ali, who took great delight in sowing the first seeds of our winter rye crop.

RU President Ali with SUST alum Diana Ramirez (BA ’17), sowing winter rye seeds in the WB Rooftop Garden at Service Day 2017

Special thanks to the 4 teams of volunteers who worked throughout the day; to RU Dining Services, which donated snacks for the volunteers (muffins flavored with chives from the garden and salad greens likewise harvested from these plots); and SUST alumni Diana Ramirez and Moses Viveros (both BA ’17), who worked this summer as Rooftop Gardeners here at the Chicago Campus, and who organized/led this volunteer effort. Thank you all!

Below are image versions of the two-page informational handout (see this pdf) on the importance of sustainability at Roosevelt Moses created and which we distributed on Service Day. Please share widely!

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SUST 350 Service & Sustainability Class Update

This fall 2017 semester I am teaching two linked sections of SUST 350 Service & Sustainability. The Chicago-based section (01) will meet in AUD 825 the first week of class (Tues 8/29) at 10am and subsequently off-campus at Eden Place Nature Center on Chicago’s South Side (4417 S. Stewart in the Fuller Park neighborhood). Starting week 2, we will convene at 9:30am in the WB Lobby and walk to the Red Line’s Harrison Stop. Eden Place is a half-mile walk from the 47th Street stop. Street parking is also readily available at the Nature Center for anyone traveling by car.

The online section (98) officially starts on 11 Sept 2017. However, students in that section are encouraged to participate in the 8/29 introductory session via Zoom video-conference. The session will also be recorded and archived on the course Bb site for the reference of students who have a scheduling conflict for 8/29.

Login information for the 350 Zoom session is as follows:

  • Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://roosevelt.zoom.us/j/903113673
  • Or iPhone one-tap (US Toll): +14086380968,,903113673# or +16468769923,,903113673#
  • Or Telephone: +1 877 369 0926 (US Toll Free) +1 877 853 5247 (US Toll Free)
  • Meeting ID: 903 113 673

For more information on this unique course, see this detailed preview page.

With Michael Howard (2nd from left), his son Troy Howard (far right), and RU students at Eden Place Nature Center, 1 Dec 2015

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Save the Fen at Joliet Junior College: An Open Letter

This is an open letter I wrote recently to the leadership of Joliet Junior College in my hometown of Joliet, Illinois. The issue at hand is a future road extension, proposed by a mall developer, that would bisect the protected natural areas of the JJC Campus and compromise a rare type of Illinois wetland. The proposed roadway has galvanized support for the JJC Fen and associated natural areas on campus and in the Joliet community, as the College’s Board of Trustees debates how to proceed.

13 June 2017

Dear President Judy Mitchell and Board Chairman Bob Wunderlich –

I write to you today as a citizen of Joliet, a longtime environmental educator, and the son and grandson of JJC graduates. My overall message to you and your colleagues on the JJC Board of Trustees is simple: I strongly support the view of the JJC Natural Areas Committee and numerous faculty, students, alumni, and community members that the JJC Fen and associated open/natural areas must be protected from the proposed road extension by Cullinan Properties.

Since its settlement began in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Illinois has lost over 90% of its natural wetlands to agricultural and urban development. In the meantime, it has built what must be millions of miles of roads, many of which are deteriorated and no longer in use. In short: we have enough roads. We cannot afford to lose yet more high quality wetlands.

Map of proposed development and roads. The County Road extension (vertical blue line at left) is the road that would traverse the JJC protected natural areas.

Map of proposed development and roads. The County Road extension (vertical blue line at left) is the road that would traverse the JJC protected natural areas.

As the above map illustrates, the proposed County Road Extension is neither the shortest nor the most convenient traffic route from the adjacent I-55 and I-80 interstates to Cullinan’s proposed “mixed-use lifestyle center” — yet even if it were, it would not be the best route. As the great writer, ecologist, and conservationist Aldo Leopold famously wrote in his 1949 book A Sand County Almanac, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise” (pp. 224-5).

The importance of JJC’s high quality open spaces, biodiversity, water quality, landscape aesthetics, and overall campus sustainability far outweigh the supposed advantages of this road extension, which serves no other purpose than to direct traffic to a shopping center that could otherwise take several other perfectly viable alternative routes that are faster and more direct.

JJC Fen 2

Detailed map of the JJC campus buildings, open spaces, water bodies, and wetlands

As the College mulls over the tempting overtures of Cullinan Properties and decides whether to protect this ecologically and educationally valuable ecosystem, or to allow its fragmentation and ultimate degradation, I urge you and your colleagues to take a long view of the matter. A perspective informed by environmental sustainability inspires us to ask careful questions about the road, the character of the campus, and the institutional mission — questions that relate not just to the issues of the day, but those decades into the future.

We now live in a world of rapid urbanization, climate change, and accelerating species extinction. A century from now, I highly doubt that the leaders, faculty, students, and alumni of JJC will look favorably upon a decision in 2017 to disturb and degrade its coveted and protected natural areas with a road built exclusively to service a single shopping center. In fact, given the economic vagaries that occur over a mere 20-30 years, let alone a century, it’s questionable said development will even be operating that far into the future. (The example of the Jefferson Square Mall, built in 1975 with great fanfare and now vaporized from the landscape a mere 40 years later, comes to mind, though there are many others one could cite.)

However, I do think that the future stewards of America’s first and oldest community college (founded 1901) would be rightly proud in the year 2117 that its leaders in the present day chose to maintain the ecological and aesthetic integrity of the campus ecosystem by conserving its tranquil and species-rich open space, protecting the water quality of its beautiful lake and stream, and ensuring the opportunities of generations of students to study field-based biology and ecology in the extraordinary “living classroom” provided by one of Illinois’ most rare and endangered wetlands, a fen.

JJC biology prof Andy Neill leads students on an exploration of the campus natural areas, spring 2017 (photo: Eric Ginnard, Joliet Herald-News)

JJC biology prof Andy Neill leads students on an exploration of the campus natural areas, spring 2017 (photo: Eric Ginnard, Joliet Herald-News)

As a graduate of the local public schools (JT West class of 1985), a current resident of Joliet, and now a professor of sustainability studies at Roosevelt University in Chicago, I have developed a close relationship over the past 12 years with many students and faculty at JJC. I can attest from my vantage point in the regional higher ed community that JJC’s commitment to environmental sustainability – embodied in its native woodland, prairie, and wetland ecosystems; its 1998 Natural Areas Resolution; its LEED-Platinum greenhouse facility and widely-praised arboretum; its progressive academic programming; and its campus sustainability leadership – is the envy of many colleges and universities in the Chicagoland region.

Consequently, harming the fundamental character of the campus’ rare and biodiverse ecosystems would not just diminish the quality of the College’s outdoor learning laboratories; it would also directly contradict JJC’s professed commitment to sustainability and potentially erode its hard-won reputation among its institutional peers.

As a local citizen who cares deeply about and greatly appreciates JJC’s remarkable history and unique educational mission, I ask that you heed the recommendations of the Natural Areas Committee and protect said Natural Areas, including the fen, from any present or future road development.

Yours sincerely,

Mike Bryson
Resident of Joliet, IL
Professor & Director of Sustainability Studies, Roosevelt University

Posted in Education, Joliet, Land use, Politics, Sustainability, Transportation, Urban ecology, Wetlands | Comments Off on Save the Fen at Joliet Junior College: An Open Letter