Western students create sustainability plan for Ithaca, Greece

During the summer of 2010, Western Washington University Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Nicholas Zaferatos and 18 students from Western traveled to the island village of Kioni in Ithaca, Greece as part of a faculty-led study abroad program, focusing their energies on devising a plan specific to Kioni and possibilities for the sustainable development of the community.

The WWU Ithaca faculty-led study abroad program, “Applied Studies in Mediterranean Sustainable Development,” will take place again this summer to emphasize village sustainable design, environmental protection, and social and economic development. Enrollment is open to all WWU students interested in sustainable development. An informational meeting will be held on Wednesday, Feb.16, at 4 p.m. in AW 303. Contact Nicholas C. Zaferatos by e-mail at nicholas.zaferatos@wwu.edu or phone (360) 650-7660 for more info.

Preservation of the community’s cultural heritage and natural resources were among the primary concerns throughout the program, as well as goals for balanced economic growth. Success in these endeavors was dependent upon an understanding of Kioni’s historical development process. Students performed field research to familiarize themselves with the architecture, infrastructure and businesses which characterize the village. Members of the community were welcoming and ready to share inside and outside of the classroom, which helped students gain a genuine perspective of the village identity and gave locals input on the plan.

Historically the village was an agricultural community whose economy thrived on olive oil production and exportation. Gradually with the rise of tourism, improved employment opportunities in other cities, and movement of farming to large-scale mechanized methods on the mainland as encouraged by the European Union, traditional farming communities like Kioni have been marginalized and depopulated.

Today Kioni has responded to these changes by becoming a largely tourism-based community. After talking with locals it was clear that such a singularly-based economy, though currently sustaining the community, has presented many challenges to advancement. Many people expressed that the off-season can easily become a difficult time to endure financially.

Following the Living Village design philosophy (a sustainable development model developed in the Sustainable Ithaca program) the class formulated a variety of goals and suggestions that would reach for the highest levels of sustainability achievable considering the built environment, the most practical applications of local materials, historic traditions, and available technologies.

Observing the historic and cultural architectural identity of the village, students inventoried village architecture, assessed limits to village growth, designed prototypes for sustainable building using simple CAD transformations of existing structures and explored ideas for public and private development and sustainable tourism. Students found that businesses like a local bakery, a fast food restaurant and a water-taxi service would be met with great demand and enthusiasm. Emphasizing the need for a diversified and year-round economy, the plan also included ideas for reviving the ancient olive oil economy using fair trade methods and building design that emphasizes net-zero impact sustainable building principles.

Dedicated to the people of the village, the class hopes that their final report will serve as a first step towards positively contributing to the creation of a sustainable development plan for Kioni..