To Pam O'Neal and Mike McCormick:

Two nights ago, I returned to the Urban Environmental Lab for a
holiday party. Amid trays of steaming food and dense clusters of
delighted students, I sensed something glimmery, illusive, alive.
Something magical.

I couldn't see the magic but I could feel it. It pulsed from the
students and moved through the walls. This should come as no surprise:
The UEL is lived in and loved the way few buildings are. Eight years
ago when I arrived at Brown, the magic of the UEL quickly caught my
eye: I watched upperclassmen baking bread, designing solar panels,
studying environmental law, trimming blackberry bushes.

With time, these inhabitants became myself and my classmates. We
embraced the UEL not only as a home-away-from-home but as a nucleus
for meaningful dialogue, personal development and community
engagement. We let the UEL shape us and in turn, left a small piece of
ourselves behind when we graduated.

Thinking of Brown without the UEL makes me feel disconnected from the
institution which so positively shaped my life. Should the UEL gets
raised and replaced with a modern, massive, expensive building then
the Brown I love will no longer exist.

A new 'improved Brown' will not be the recipient of my donations. It
will not be the institution I recommend to my children, my colleagues'
children, my neighbors. Instead, I will redirect my efforts and
resources to places where handcrafted, time-tested public spaces are
cherished. Please think carefully before removing an artifact as
profound as the UEL from the Brown University landscape.

Thank you,

Louella Hill, '04

December 14, 2007

Pamela O’Neil, Assistant Provost
Michael McCormick, Associate Vice-President for Planning
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912

Dear Ms. O’Neil and Mr. McCormick:

I am a 1975 Brown Graduate with a BA in Environmental and Urban Studies. Since there was no Center for Environmental Studies, I did an independent major with Harold Ward as my major advisor. While I had a good experience at Brown and I do continue to work in the environmental field, having a Center for Environmental Studies would have enriched my experience. After reading heart-felt letters from Center for Environmental Studies graduates, I feel the need to write and offer my support for saving the center. If I were going to college today, this would be exactly the type of place I would be looking for.

It seems odd that when finally the whole world has re-awakened to the importance of the environment and being “green”, particularly with regard to global warming, Brown is considering demolition of the Center for Environmental Studies. Even if it were moved to a spot in a larger building, it would not be the same. The essence of the current center is its human scale architecture integrated with the natural environment – you cannot put an organic garden right outside the door in a high-rise!

I urge Brown University to strongly support its environmental studies program, including providing this center to inspire future students.

Joanne Polayes
Class of 1975

16 October 2007
Dear Ms. O'Neil,
I graduated from Brown in 1999 with a degree in Environmental Studies.  While I value most aspects of my experiences in college, my time in the ES department, and specifically in the UEL, rise to the top of the list of things most important to me while a student.  The community that makes up the ES department truly enables hands-on learning, and real dialogue and feedback about real issues.  The actual building, with its intimate size and layout suitable for small-group work, enables and fosters this community.
Please do everything you can to see that this building is not torn down.  Its value is far more than sentimental or historical; it shapes and nurtures the quality of the environmental studies program.
Thank you for your time -
Kim Mowery

17 October 2007
Dear Mr.McCormick and Ms.O'Neil,

As a concerned alumnus of the Center of Environmental Studies , I am writing to voice to you both my concern for preserving the Urban Environmental Lab.   The UEL played such a crucial and intricate role in my growth and learning at Brown that I cannot imagine a CES without it.  Speaking from personal experience, it would be a terrible shame and loss to future generations of students if the UEL is not sustained, having built such a unique atmosphere for open learning and a sense of "home" for CES students that would be difficult to be recreated elsewhere.  The UEL built a sense of community that I have yet to see since graduating from Brown.  Please consider the option of moving the UEL directly south, to face Waterman Street .   

 I know that many alumni share my thoughts and concerns, so I ask you both to please take into account that there are many people who would be greatly disappointed in seeing our previous home and history destroyed. 

I thank you both for your time.


Nguyet M. Tau, DMD

19 October 2007

Mr. McCormick and Ms. O'Neil:

I understand, from the Center for Environmental Studies (CES) alumni list serve, Brown University has plans to build on the site of the Urban Environmental Lab (UEL), home of the CES.  I request you move and preserve the building, or at minimum, provide the CES with a new home of similar sustainable design and homey feel.  This building, and the family environment it fosters, changed my Brown experience - I felt like I belonged somewhere at the University when I found it, and then ultimately, it let me escape the feeling of "school" my senior year, when I was ready to move on.

Since graduating 8 years ago, I have returned to UEL functions, not class reunions.  I contribute to Brown annually to support the professors and "family" I left at the UEL. When I drive through Providence, I stop at the UEL and say hello to those who joined the CES after my graduation as comfortably as those with whom I worked.  This is the environment a house, rather than an academic building, creates.

The UEL has a history for the CES.  It was designed and supposedly constructed by the original CES members.  CES alumni feel tremendous pride in our predecessors' vision and action.  And we also take on their humility, recognizing the changes that had to be made to the building since its completion, to stop it overheating.  This building teaches as much as it shelters.

Over my years at Brown (and once or twice since), I have: slept in the building's lofts; written papers and ultimately a thesis at computers in the basement, upstairs main room, and Office Manager's office; watched World Cup Soccer with staff and people walking by on the big screen in the classroom during a summer internship; driven the compressed gas van out of the garage to get food for Lunch Seminars; made numerous breakfasts, lunches and even a few dinners in its kitchen; and spent endless hours reading in the casual study hall setting created in its common rooms.  The UEL was, without question, the most important component to my unique college experience, and love for Brown.  My friends in other departments did not have the same experience of belonging at Brown, knowing their professors personally, and then, when I was tiring of conventional academia, sheltered independence.

I tried working out of the Environmental Science building after it was completed, and then snuck back to the UEL six months later.  A house is unparalleled in the atmosphere and kinship it creates.

Thank you for your consideration of this request,
ScB Environmental Science '99

23 October 2007

Dear Associate Provost Pamela O'Neil,

I'm writing as a recent Brown alum (class of '07) concerned with the future of the Urban Environmental Lab (UEL) at 135 Angell Street. I understand that the University plans to build the new Mind, Brain and Behavior building in the place of the UEL and relocate the Center for Environmental Studies to Metcalf.

Not only does this decision personally upset me as a former Environmental Science concentrator, but I feel it is a short sighted and unfortunate decision from the University's perspective.

 In this day of rising gas prices, land use change, and CO2 scares, environmental studies has become an indispensable field with an expanding job market. Al Gore recently won the Nobel Prize for his work educating about climate change; what prize will Brown University win for bulldozing a green building that represents Brown's strength in the environmental field?

 The UEL represents all that made my Brown experience worthwhile and enjoyable. The friendly, quirky and warm atmosphere of the building fostered an environment of intellectual discussion where I knew my professors by their first names. This atmosphere could not be recreated on the third floor of Metcalf, regardless of how many student lounges are refurbished. This atmosphere resulted from the warmth of the greenhouse, the comfort of an old, recovered armchair, the soft lighting of a desk lamp, the creak of the staircase, and the smell of food that someone always seemed to be cooking in the kitchen.   I've spent time studying in the student lounge in MacMillan, but never did I have a conversation with another student or professor in that lounge that both informed and stimulated my passion as those occurring in the UEL.

 I am not alone when I say that the ambience inside the UEL was responsible for my decision to choose Environmental Science over a similar concentration such as biology or international relations.  Therefore, I would credit the UEL as being partially responsible for the growing strength and popularity of the Center for Environmental Studies.

I have heard it argued that spaces such as the UEL are slated for destruction because they are not an efficient use of space. This logic depends on measuring efficiency in classrooms or offices per square foot, students per area, or another such strictly quantitative measurement. This definition of efficiency does not account for the hidden inefficiencies of such a design. Is it truly efficient to confine students to spaces that inhibit creativity, stifle discussion and bore the senses?   I loved Brown because it did none of these, and it did none of these things because spaces like the UEL exist.

 I truly hope that you will reconsider the decision. I would argue for preserving the UEL by rotating the building 180 degrees and moving it South to face Watermen street. The fact that destroying the UEL is even being discussed makes me sad, disillusioned and bitter in regards to a University which I loved so much.


Laura Genello
Environmental Science 2007

Dear Ms. O'Neil and Mr. McCormick:

It has come to my attention that the Urban Environmental Laboratory at 135 Angell Street recently lost its Urban Community Garden and itself faces demolition or relocation as a consequence of the Brown Corporation's approval of this site for the construction of the new Mind/Brain/Behavior building. Given that the Mind/Brain/Behavior project is currently in the design and fund-raising phase, as a concerned Brown alumna, I take this opportunity to express my deep concern for the future of Brown's Center for Environmental Studies (CES). The CES course offerings, faculty, and facilities were all important factors in my decision to attend Brown. During my years as an undergraduate from fall of 1989 to spring of 1993, I spent countless hours at the Urban Environmental Laboratory: taking classes; gaining work experience; using its library and computers to work on course papers and my thesis; interacting with professors, fellow students, and visitors; and attending special events. I am very disappointed to learn that future generations of Brown students may lose such rich opportunities for professional and personal growth in a physical setting with historical significance and social-ecological value as a demonstration site for sustainable urban living.

As decisions about the leadership, future location, and form of the CES are made in the coming months and years, I urge you and your colleagues to recognize the tremendous institutional value the CES holds for prospective students and faculty, for current students and faculty, and for an extensive alumni network. I sincerely hope that the UEL and its mission will be preserved and that a suitable replacement site for the UEL Community Garden will be identified.

Sandra R. Baptista
Brown University, Class of 1993

5 November 2007
Dear Mr. McCormick and Ms. O'Neil:

As an alumna and graduate in Environmental Studies (1984), I recently heard that you are potentially planning to destroy or move the Urban Environmental Laboratory to make way for yet another large science building in the Biomed complex.  Twenty-three years ago I helped renovate the old carriage house at 135 Angell Street, which allowed the nascent Environmental Studies Program to move out of its very uncomfortable home in Metcalf Lab and into a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient living laboratory, greenhouse, and garden.  The UEL was one of the very first such demonstration buildings in the United States, just as the Environmental Studies Program was one of the first such models at any university in the country.  So you see, the UEL is not simply an anachronistic symbol that alumnae get teary over  it was, and is, the home base and technological center of a visionary and increasingly important academic discipline that has since been developed in hundreds of universities worldwide.  Never has there been a greater need to train a new generation of undergraduates to tackle the formidable environmental challenges facing the world (challenges brought on, in part, by heedless and poorly planned construction such as that you are proposing). 

I am appalled that Brown University has already demolished the garden associated with the building, and that you would now bulldoze the building itself.  CES graduates are known far and wide for their activism and their capacity to organize others in rallying for a cause.  You, the administration, and the corporation will be hearing from many quarters on this issue.  Please consider alternatives to preserve the building in its current location or, at worst, moving the building to a PERMANENT location that is amenable to its many functions in the campus and Providence community.


Elizabeth Farnsworth, Ph.D.

6 November 2007

To: Ms. Pamela O'Neil
Associate Provost
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island
Dear Mr. O'Neil,

I was dismayed to learn recently of the Corporation's decision to locate a new Mind Brain Behavior building at the current site of the Urban Environmental Laboratory, which houses the Center for Environmental Studies.  I am writing you because I am concerned about the uncertain future of the UEL and what this means for students in Brown's Environmental Studies program, and for the Brown community as a whole.

As one of the first graduates of Brown's Environmental Studies program, I am among a handful of alumni who remember when the then fledging CES was housed in the Metcalf Building. It was from that cramped office that several of us students worked with Harold Ward to write the first grant proposals seeking support for renovation of the Lucian Sharpe Carriage House and creation of the UEL.  We imagined a place where students could learn together in a setting that would foster a sense of community and serve as a living laboratory for sustainability, while creating opportunities to reach out to the broader community.

Construction began the summer I graduated, and of course I never had the opportunity to experience living, working and learning in the UEL as a Brown student. However,  I have since had ample opportunity to get to know the UEL and understand its importance to the Brown community from the perspective of an alumnus. Over the years, I have returned to Brown regularly --  for reunions (most recently last year, for my 25th) and, on occasion, to contribute to panels and forums.  On each of these visits I always spent time at the UEL because for me, too, it had become a kind of home base on campus.   It is so impressive to see what the faculty and students of CES over the years have accomplished in realizing the potential of the UEL--  far beyond what any of us could have imagined in those early days.

The sense of community fostered in that space is palpable.  I have heard students and alumni who studied and worked in the UEL talk about what it has meant to them to have a home base where the dialogue with peers and faculty continued outside of classes and meetings, and where they felt a sense of purpose being involved in a building and garden designed to demonstrate ways of living more sustainably.

The loss of such a vibrant center will surely leave a gap in the life of the Brown community.  I urge you to explore all options for preserving the UEL as close to its current site as possible. I would hope that this would be in a location where the long-term future of the UEL will be secure and where it can continue to serve as a home for the Center for Environmental Studies.

Thank you.


Jessica Brown (Class of '81)

Michael McCormick
Assistant Vice President, Planning, Design, and Construction
Facilities Management
Brown University
Box 1941
Providence, RI 02912

Dear Assistant Vice President McCormick,
As a concerned alumna of the Center for Environmental Studies, I am writing to voice to you my concern for the future of the Urban Environmental Lab.   Having also concentrated in biology, I know firsthand that the community atmosphere of CES was unparalleled compared to other departments on campus – the UEL played a critical role in fostering this sense of community. Such a learning environment was an important factor in my decision to concentrate in Environmental Studies and the education I received here continues to serve me well.

Enclosed please find a copy of the slideshow that was presented at the commencement ceremonies for the Center for Environmental Studies’ graduating class of 2002. [This CD is intended for viewing on your computer using Windows Media Player or similar program.] I think this video captures well both the spirit of the UEL and the students that it produced. I am doubtful that the third floor of Metcalf Lab would yield similar results.

I urge you to consider moving the UEL to preserve its history and significance.

Belinda Chen
Class of 2002

10 November 2007

Dear Ms. O'Neil and Mr. McCormick,

I'm writing to urge you to preserve the Urban Environmental Lab.  As a Master's student in Environmental Studies ('05), I spent two years at Brown benefiting from the strong CES community, and I believe that community was uniquely possible because of the building that housed it.

First off, the building is a mixing bowl. It naturally mixes grad students with undergrads. It breaks down barriers between professors and students (I had many a serendipitous conversation with a professor just because they would walk through commonly-used public spaces to get to their offices). And the work spaces have some overlap with common spaces. To my mind, MacMillan is a good comparison building for thinking about work and common spaces.  The MacMillan workspaces that CES students used felt sterile, like cubicles. Going there was like punching in for work. And then when work was done, you punched out - walking alone down a long hallway to exit.  As far as I could tell, common spaces weren't a meaningful concept for CES students in MacMillan.  At the UEL, work ended and flowed naturally into sharing or socializing with others in the program.

A second irreplaceable element of the UEL is the spiritual center the building creates for the CES community.  The garden, the greenhouse, the building materials (non-institutional), the ever-busy kitchen, its modest perch on the land, the cozy meeting spaces -- these were part of why the building was a second home for CES students, and for some their primary home on campus.  From my experience, CES students tend to care deeply about their immediate surroundings (their immediate "environment").  Having a warm and inviting space for the community fits that natural ethos of CES students.  And there's no question that many students tightly linked their studies of food and the environment with the UEL's indoor and outdoor gardens.

Finally, the UEL is a space that students can own, in the best of senses.  It's a space that students personalize (so it's always growing).  It's a space students can become very attached to, myself included.  And because the UEL feels anti-institutional, it's a space that students are willing to take responsibility for, and they do.  Thinking back, it's amazing to think that building was my "department."  It makes me rethink the associations I have with that word.

My career in higher education has so far spanned three high-level institutions - Princeton, Brown, and Boston University - and no university community I've found beats out the one that thrives in the UEL.  I hope you will reconsider any plans you have for demolishing it.


Brian Thurber

14 November 2007

Dear Mr. McCormick and Ms. O'Neil,

I am writing to express my concern about the future of the Urban Environmental Laboratory (UEL), the home of the Center for Environmental Studies (CES) at 135 Angell Street (see the attached document for a Word version of this letter).  I have been informed that the Brown Corporation has approved siting the Mind, Brain, Behavior Building at the current location of the UEL, leaving the UEL to either be relocated or demolished.  I urge you to seriously consider relocating the UEL by moving it south to Waterman Street. 

From 1995 to 1999 the UEL was my intellectual home at Brown.  Not only was this the space where I interacted formally and informally with other undergraduate students as well as graduate students and faculty in a warm and casual setting, I also served as a staff member at the UEL for much of my time at Brown, both maintaining the common areas and programs at the UEL and performing research activities for CES faculty.  I took almost all of my ES courses in the UEL and served as a teaching assistant for one as well.  This only scratches the surface, however, of the emotional attachment I feel towards the UEL.

CES, in my mind, is the model of a successful interdisciplinary department, an important educational ideal to which most institutions of higher learning merely pay lip service.  The UEL building plays a large role in this success.  The building itself literally serves as a laboratory for the ES curricula.  The UEL is a highly energy-efficient building with a greenhouse, skylights to promote day lighting, heavy-duty wall insulation, low-flow toilets, and until recently a lush and productive community garden.  It is a historic building which was retrofitted by Harold Ward and his students so that they could learn ecologically-sensitive design principles not only through reading texts and attending lecture but by actual first-hand experience in a university environment that supported their ideas and approaches.  I attended my five year reunion in 2004, and before Campus Dance I stopped by the CES alumni cocktail hour.  As I wandered through my old academic home, I came across a binder containing materials that had been gathered for CES's 20th anniversary.  Inside were photographs of Harold and his students up on the roof of the UEL, nailing down roofing material, creating the very structures they were learning about in their courses.  The photographs literally brought me to tears, as I understood then to a degree I never had as an undergraduate at Brown, that Harold and his colleagues at CES were living out the ideas and ideals that they taught, and that the UEL, the building itself, was the instrument which allowed them to include their undergraduate and graduate students in this pursuit.  The word "laboratory," included in the name of the building, thus has very profound meaning.

Aside from the environmental studies department at Oberlin, I know of no other department, environmental or otherwise, which has successfully taken this approach to education.  It is not an easy or conventional approach, but it is extremely powerful and rewarding.  This approach, the UEL, and the faculty and programs of CES have had a profound effect on my life and my career ambitions.  Since graduation I have searched for a place which takes this approach to learning and living, and I have not yet encountered it.  The UEL cannot be recreated in another location. The building itself is an instrumental part of the vision and history of Harold, his colleagues, and his students.  I am sure CES would flourish on the 3rd floor of Metcalf, due entirely to the drive and dedication of CES faculty and administration, but I can assure you the undergraduate experience would be lacking in comparison.  Brown, too, would lose something special that it may not even recognize it has and that other institutions would love to say they have.

It is also important to note that Harold initiated the green retrofit of the UEL over 20 years ago at a time when the concepts of green architecture and design were truly revolutionary and novel.  In the past several years green building has become increasingly trendy and mainstream and an avenue for institutions to improve their environmental and social image.  It seems bad timing for Brown to demolish a historic building that was retrofitted according to these principles, particularly when these types of projects are so popular and sought after across a broad spectrum of US academic institutions but yet so expensive and often difficult to get off the ground in today's economy.

I apologize for the length of this letter, and I sincerely thank you for taking the time to read it.  Obviously, I have strong feelings about the UEL and the programs it contains, and I appreciate the chance to express my perspective.  It is my hope that this letter and others like it from other alumni and current students will persuade you to consider relocating the UEL to Waterman Street.  Thank you for your consideration.


Emilie Stander, PhD
Class of 1999
Environmental Scientist
Environmental Protection Agency

15 November 2007

Dear Ms. O'Neil and Mr. McCormick,

I am writing to express my deep sadness at the plan to demolish the  Urban Environmental Lab and move the Center for Environmental Studies  to the Metcalf Chemistry Building.  I urge you to consider moving the  UEL to another location, rather than destroying the building that has  played such an important role in forming the academic & social  experiences of so many people in the Brown community--and beyond-- over the past 25 years.

I graduated from Environmental Studies in 2004, and now work at Brown  after a brief stint with a local nonprofit organization.  As a CES  alumna, as a member of the Providence community, and as a current  member of the Brown community, I would like to give you my  perspective on what the UEL means to everyone who crosses its  threshold.  First, as an alum, I credit the UEL for bringing students  together in a way that few other departments at Brown are able.   Other departments work hard to create social cohesion by throwing  pizza parties, but the UEL offers something more.  Since its  inception, when students worked to retrofit the structure with  emerging green technologies, the building has been a uniquely  democratic space, where students are as involved in the day-to-day  maintenance and re-creation of the structure as are faculty and  staff.  Demolishing the UEL would destroy the handcrafted legacy of generations of students.

Second, I would like to stress for you the important role the UEL  plays in the Providence community.  I can think of nearly a dozen community organizations that have utilized the convenient, charming spaces within the building for meetings and public gatherings since I came to Brown.  Very few other buildings at Brown are available to  the public in the same way as the UEL, or have the same inviting atmosphere that draws people in.  In an era in which President Simmons is working to build bridges between our ivory tower and the Providence community, the simple gesture of community-accessible  space speaks volumes. But in losing the UEL, the local community would lose an important resource, and Brown would lose one of its valuable forms of outreach to its Providence neighbors.

I understand that the University has to prioritize the efficient use of space on the crowded East Side, and I appreciate that you are also considering the growing classroom and meeting space needs of the Center for Environmental Studies.  I hope that rather than demolishing the UEL, you will consider the Center's long history of student engagement and hands-on learning.  To my mind, this is an excellent moment to begin working with CES students and faculty to determine how the UEL can be modified to reflect both students'  academic and social needs, and University space priorities.

Thank you for your time.  I appreciate your consideration in reading my lengthy email, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,
Marian Thorpe

3 December 2007

Dear Ms. O'Neil and Mr. McCormick,

I am writing to express my deep concerns about the current plan to demolish the Urban Environmental Lab (UEL) and move the Center for Environmental Studies (CES) to the Metcalf Chemistry Building.  I urge you to consider moving the UEL to another location, rather than destroying the building that has played such an important role in forming the academic & social experiences of so many people in the Brown community--and beyond--over the past 25 years.

I graduated from Brown with a BS in Environmental Science from the CES in 1998. I really loved the educational experience I received at Brown. The time I spent in our department's building (the UEL) had a serious impact on my professional and personal development. The building was consciously constructed with green building practices in mind many years ago, and this helped me learn about constructing space not just for the purpose of shelter but also to plan for healthy spaces, energy conservation, and social interaction. The building was the most comfortable place to be on campus for me and the community that evolved to occupy the space had a significant impact on me as well. I would read in the greenhouse where there was so much oxygen that I could FEEL an increase in the comprehension of what I was studying; I would help make soup for the community for lunch on days when we would have speakers or lectures, including the days that seniors would present their thesis work; I would work on group projects in the library which facilitated group gatherings; and I could garden in the community garden, a major stress reliever during school!

I now garden seriously in my spare time, growing much of the produce my family of three needs from June to December. I have worked in the green building field. I now am the director of a state-wide program that provides business planning assistance to farmers in Vermont - the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program. I went to graduate school to study environmental policy and urban planning. And I know that the UEL is a critical element for teaching, creating community at the CES. My understanding is that Brown is a teaching school, and in my experience, this is what set Brown apart in its quality of education from other ivy league and other leading schools. Replacing the UEL with a large research building would be a mistake. I understand that utilizing this block most efficiently may mean moving the UEL for the University, but I implore of you to consider relocating the UEL and maintaining this building - or building a new green building that carries many of these elements onward. Moving the department to Metcalf would be a blow to this department, and at a time when environmental studies is a focus exploding in popularity and demand at many schools, and businesses and industries are looking for skilled young people in this field.

Thank you for your time.  I appreciate your consideration.
Elanor Abrams Chapin '98

4 December 2007

Environmental Studies programs are somewhat of a strange breed on university campuses.  They are not, in the pure sense, academic disciplines.  Often they are described as professional degrees: preparing students to confront local and global environmental challenges in governments, the private sector, non-profits, and in educational venues by providing exposure to a broad swath of academic knowledge, from biology to economics.  In addition, environmental studies programs emphasize experiential learning.  Experiential learning can mean field research, volunteer work in communities and government, writing and trying out educational programs, and building working models of environmental living.  You have to understand the importance of experiential learning in environmental studies if you are to understand the importance of the physical structure of the UEL and its surrounding gardens.

I came to Brown in 2000 to interview with various faculty regarding a potential independent Ph.D. program in environmental studies.  I had the opportunity to meet with my future advisor, Steven Hamburg, as well as Harold Ward (director of the CES), Brian O'Neill and Jack Mustard. While I was impressed with the academic strength and commitment to research at Brown, my brief exposure to the UEL was a huge attraction. Nestled in the midst of traditional campus of concrete buildings and asphalt parking lots was a refurbished barn with a beautiful community garden in front.  Inside, the UEL was bustling with students, in the kitchen, the computer lab and the main room.  The building itself was a combination of historic architecture, green space and new technologies. In contrast to the sterility of academic departments across Brown, its unassuming rustic interior mirrored the ideological disposition of many of us, students and teachers of environmental studies: emphasis on community, substance over show, sacrificing glitz for simplicity, conservation and practicality.  Perhaps I can put it more bluntly: I loved the UEL and garden and the community therein, and it was a tremendous draw for me.  It was a powerful symbol of a quality environmental studies program.

In 2001, when I came to Brown, it was always a pleasure to spend time at the UEL, among the students cooking, laughing, studying, preparing projects.  Until my final year at Brown, the UEL was a place where students not only learned environmental studies, but they lived environmental studies.  I would often meet with friends in the garden (or enjoy it alone).  The soup seminars were always a huge draw.  I would look over student projects sprawled across the floor of the main room, as students put the final touches on them.  I looked forward to swinging by to get my mail just to see who was there and what was going on.  So it was with great sadness that I watched the UEL subdivided into small offices and workplaces (even as I was excited for its rapidly expanding faculty), and the interior of the building become increasingly sterile.  Accordingly, students stopped using it as a meeting place because all of the public space had been turned over to office and conference space.  The transfer to a conventional building and the loss of the community garden will be the last step in eliminating some of the most positive aspects of Brown's environmental studies program. Potential students will know this.  While most potential students are drawn to universities due to reputation and academic prowess, environmental studies students seek out programs where they can experience their environmental education.  It is my fear that with the loss of the physical space of the UEL and garden, Brown will lose the most passionate and serious of environmental studies students. Moreover, it will be very sad indeed for me personally to come back to a Brown campus that is missing its UEL and garden.


Daniel Orenstein, Ph.D. ('06)
Ne'eman Post-Doctoral Fellow
Center for Urban and Regional Studies
Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning
Technion - Israel Institute of Technology
Haifa, 32000    Israel

6 December 2007

Dear Asst. Vice President McCormick and Dr. O'Neil,

A few weeks ago, I, an '05 alum of the Center for Environmental Studies, returned to Brown for the purpose of visiting the medical school.  I was excited to come back to Brown partially because I was coming with a group of non-Brown graduates who were also visiting Brown Med, and I was going to be acting as tour guide for the campus that I had loved so much as a an undergraduate.  In particular, I tried to point out the UEL and garden, proud of this place that was so uniquely homey and intimate, that I felt really embodied Brown's focus on the individual student and his or her learning environment.  To my shock and dismay, the garden had been dug up, and the building partially obscured by fencing and construction. 

This sight saddened me for nostalgic reasons, but also because it seemed to represent Brown's transformation into a place that is more impersonal, and more focused on modernity than learning.  The UEL is a unique place, and represents to me much of what made me love my time at Brown.  There, I experienced true concern for students' individual well-being and academic freedom, close collaboration among students and faculty, hands-on learning, and the comfort and richness of a learning environment enhanced by natural beauty.  The construction that has been occurring at Brown over the past few years is all about the new and innovative; however, what I loved there was not Brown's modern facilities, but the respect the faculty and students had for the human aspect of learning.  You can't get much more human, in an academic setting, than the small conference spaces and beautiful garden the UEL once had, not to mention its energy-efficiency and the time and effort people put into its design and improvement.

The UEL is a place conducive to producing the kind of students Brown prides itself on, and I highly urge the administration to reconsider its destruction.  And if it must be torn down, I believe that many would agree with me when I say that only a space equally intimate, homelike, energy-efficient and accessible (not relegated to the edge of campus, where no one will see or take advantage of it) could replace it.  Only a space equal to the UEL could represent, in such a concrete, effective way, the kinds of values Brown professes to instill in its students.


Alexandra Coria, CES '05

10 December 2007

Pamela O’Neil, Assistant Provost
Michael McCormick, Associate Vice-President for Planning
Brown University          Providence, RI             02912

Dear Ms. O’Neil and Mr. McCormick:

As a proud  and active alum of Brown and the Environmental Studies Department, I am deeply saddened to hear that the location and existence of the Urban Environmental Laboratory at 135 Angell Street is threatened by the expansion of the Biomedical complex. 

The potential destruction of the UEL and current removal of the urban organic garden beside it seem at odds with a university dedicated to educating the next generation of climate problem solvers.  I was happy to hear about the new Environmental Change Initiative (ECI) that partners multiple departments and public organizations with the Center for Environmental Studies.  And yet, to have the work of the ECI go on without the benefit of the cooperative learning space of the UEL would be a loss.

As you know, the renovation of an historic carriage house into a low-impact learning lab created the heart of the Environmental Studies department and a model for one path to greener cities.  The chance to see the bricks that store and radiate heat in the greenhouse, the solar panels, the low flow toilets, etc. is unique among many institutions and inspiring to the people who are lucky enough to learn and work there. The hours spent inside this building testing lead in the basement, chopping local produce in the kitchen for soup seminars, discussing current environmental events with students and professors in the warm comfort of the interior, learning about energy efficiency from the heating and electrical system, and more, nurtured and informed my personal, professional, and intellectual development

My mother, Judith Skeist Goodman, attended Pembroke in the 60s and received an excellent education, but it was my UEL centered experience that she wished she had had.  As the university continues to expand and change I urge you to consider preserving this exceptional model of small scale sustainable design at the Urban Environmental Laboratory.

Thank You,

Sarah Goodman

Environmental Studies, 1995

December 10, 2007

Ruth Simmons, President Brown University
Campus Box 1860
Providence, RI 02912

RE: Urban Environmental Laboratory Building (UEL)
Dear Ruth,

I was shocked and saddened when I read of Brown's imminent plans to tear down the UEL in November's Insider email blast. I implore you not to let this occur.

When I think back on my years at Brown, I associate my fondest memories with the UEL. The house at 135 Angell St. fosters a great community feeling in the Center for Environmental Studies-not to mention it is a green building, which is a perfect fit for the ES department courses that it houses inside. In fact, my first ES class was held in the UEL; it was a career defining moment, as that experience changed my concentration from economics to green building.

Even my family has great memories of attending a soup lunch at the UEL and eating in the community garden. They were surprised that such an inviting building existed among the standard large institutional buildings. My friends, who were not ES students, loved joining me to read in the warm UEL greenhouse on chilly winter days. Visitors were always curious about how that house came to be and I was always eager to tell them about its unique background as carriage house that was renovated through a student project.

Considering global climate concerns, demolishing the building that has the lowest heating costs per square foot and educates students about green building by its mere presence is a step in the wrong direction. I encourage you to make every effort possible to keep the building intact. As a real estate developer, I understand some buildings stand in the way of new projects, but I also understand that there are options. If the UEL is not able to stay at its current location at 135 Angell St, there must be another central place on campus to relocate the building.

Molly MacGregor, '04
Pamela O'Neil, Associate Provost, Pamela O'

Mike McCormick, Assistant Vice President, Planning, Design & Construction, Michael_McCormick@Brown. EDU

December 10, 2007
Pamela O’Neil, Assistant Provost
Michael McCormick, Associate Vice-President for Planning
Brown University
Providence , RI 02912
Dear Ms. O’Neil and Mr. McCormick:
I recently learned from a fellow alumna that the location (and even perhaps the entire existence) of the University’s Urban Environmental Laboratory (UEL) is threatened. I am writing today to urge you to consider options for maintaining the UEL and the community it fosters.
I’m sure that many have written to you about their experiences at the UEL. I, too, have very fond memories of it, but won’t bore you with the specific details. However, I do want to stress that the UEL was not just a classroom building - during my time at Brown it was a community gathering place. And that’s why I think the University should value and preserve it.
My father (class of 1969) found his community in a fraternity house. My husband (class of 1995) found a community on the football field. I found mine at the UEL. Though the places were different, we all have very fond memories of Brown centered on the place where we found friends and peers with whom we could work, laugh, and grow. I therefore hope you are able to find a way to maintain the UEL or create a similar space so that future students are able to pursue their interest in environmental studies and forge strong bonds with their classmates in a space they can call their own.
Best regards,
Cate Doherty-Waldeck
Class of 1994

December 10, 2007
Pamela ONeil, Assistant Provost
Michael McCormick, Associate Vice-President for Planning
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
Dear Ms. ONeil and Mr. McCormick:
I am a 1989 Masters graduate of the Center for Environmental Studies whose education enables effective work in the State of Rhode Island on water resources and ancillary environmental issues.  In my position as Senior Director for Policy at the Audubon Society of RI, I serve on boards and commissions that effect and affect state policy (Technical Committee of Statewide Planning, State House lobbying, superfund site advisory and various stakeholder groups are current positions).  I conduct research on policy and engage in public education projects.   Other CES graduates hold positions which afford similar benefits to state policy.  These activities are grounded in the practice of public engagement education in the program of the Center for Environmental Studies at Brown. 
The process of research applied to solve local problems with workable, highly informed solutions has been a hallmark of the CES program.  It is valuable not only to Rhode Island but to the hundreds of communities and projects across the world where CES graduates have applied their educations. 
I continue to mentor, when invited, current Brown students so that they may use the excellence of a Brown education to the service of combining science, economics and public policy to assure a future that supports human society within the context of available natural resources. 
I urge Brown University to generously support the Program in Environmental Studies and to recognize that a center where human scale architecture that is integrated with natural surroundings is an essential part of the program.
Eugenia S. Marks (G89)

10 December 2007
Dear Ms. O’Neil and Mr. McCormick:
I have recently learned that the Center for Environmental Studies Department’s Urban Environment Lab is under threat of destruction. As an alumnus of the Center, I am deeply saddened to think that the supportive learning and social environment that was fostered at the UEL may not be available to future Environmental Studies students. 
The UEL building was an integral part of my education at Brown. Between classes, it was a place where issues were debated, futures were imagined, and ideas were tested. My CES professors’ offices were located in this very building which meant that I took advantage of their “office hours” far more than those of other professors. The reason for the last was partially due to proximity, but the fact of having numerous casual interactions with them in the kitchen, hallways, and small library of the building increased their approachability considerably. The intimacy of the space and the fact of being in a building that was a living experiment were key elements of making our environmental studies curriculum come alive.  
When I think back on my Brown experience, I believe that it would have been a fraction of what it was without that space and the community that the UEL fostered. When I ask myself what set apart my education at Brown from the education I could have had at another institution, the UEL is a key element that makes me grateful for my years at Brown. Please do what you can to preserve this experience for future students.
Thank You,
Marya Carr
Environmental Studies, 1996

10 December 2007
Dear Ms. O’Neil and Mr. McCormick:
I was dismayed to learn of Brown Universitys proposal to tear down the Center for Environmental Studies Urbal Environmental Lab (UEL).  This historic building and its associated community garden is an oasis in the city of Providence and a unique resource on which Brown University should capitalize.  I am writing this letter to express my concern over the proposed destruction of the UEL, and voice my support for an alternative proposal to preserve it.
I am a 2001 graduate of Brown University, where I earned an ScB in Environmental Science, and I am currently a doctoral student in Biology at the University of Washington.  The UEL played a crucial role in my education at Brown, and it was an integral part of my experience at the Center for Environmental Studies (CES).  The UEL offers a hands-on approach to studying and solving environmental problems that is tangible through the buildings passive solar design and through the gardens that surround it.  Furthermore, it provides a unique atmosphere of open learning as well as a sense of home for students.
As climate change and other severe environmental problems become increasingly prominent in the scientific, environmental, urban planning, and public policy spheres, the UEL is more vital than ever.  I was shocked to learn that Brown would even consider destroying this important center of community and learning. I urge Brown University instead to generously support the Center for Environmental Studies.
I assure you that many alumni share my thoughts and concerns, so I ask you to please consider alternatives to destroying the UEL. For instance, it has been proposed that the UEL could be moved to face Waterman Street.   The UEL is truly a unique resource that added tremendously to my Brown education; I hope that future Brown students will be given the opportunity to experience it as well.
Ailene Kane
ScB Environmental Science 2001
Biology Department
University of Washington
Box 351800
Seattle, Washington  98195-1800

December 11, 2007
Pamela O’Neil, Assistant Provost
Michael McCormick, Associate Vice-President for Planning
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912

Dear Drs. O’Neil and McCormick:
“We are slowly recognizing that the failure to understand and revere place has unleashed a toxic assault on the conditions and communities of life that are the very umbilical cord to our own human existence.” 
Miriam Therese MacGillis’ words could not ring truer about the UEL.  Both the interior and exterior of the UEL connect the community to its past, present and future in a way that few, if any other, buildings on Brown’s campus are able to do. From the outside, the century-old structure of the carriage house harkens the viewer back, conjuring up images of Providence’s rich cultural heritage.  The solar panels and greenhouse quickly bring the observer to the present day, in an impressive illustration of how innovation can promote sustainability through using and upgrading existing materials, transforming the building into a state-of-the-art structure with a minimal ecological footprint.  Once inside, students and visitors quickly begin to understand the contribution this built capital makes to the human and social capital embedded within it. 
I am a 2004 Masters graduate of the Center for Environmental Studies and am now a Ph.D. Candidate in Ecological Economics and Natural Resources at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.  My decision to pursue this degree, and to dedicate my career to teaching and research at the university level, was shaped completely through my experience at the CES and UEL. 
The interdisciplinary focus of the CES illuminates the cutting-edge vision of the program as more and more universities, granting institutions and governments recognize the necessity for transdisciplinary collaboration to solve complex environmental, economic and social problems.  This collaboratory approach is not only evident in CES classes, but in every aspect of UEL life.  It serves not only as a classroom location, meeting place for group projects and a space for peer mentoring, but as a second home to many students who engage in lively discussions while making dinner in the kitchen; take naps on the couches; spend countless hours working there and who, along with CES faculty and staff, are true participants in contributing to building a community in a space of reasonable scale. 
It saddens me greatly to think that future CES students may not be able to study concepts such ecological sustainability, cradle-to-cradle design, biophysical limits to growth, scale, and environmental planning and policy in a setting that provides concrete applications of such themes.
Understanding and acknowledging that both our built and natural spaces contribute to our sense of place will go far in promoting a thriving community.  I strongly urge Brown University to generously support the Center for Environmental Studies and the Urban Environmental Lab by celebrating the fact that its human scale architecture is integrated with its natural surroundings, contributing a vital component to the program’s academic pursuit. 

Valerie Esposito, MA ’04