May 2, 2012
It’s easy to say you’ve gone green — maybe you think that tossing a plastic bottle in the right container from time to time qualifies. It’s another thing entirely to live a sustainable lifestyle.
For Temple Community and Regional Planning master’s degree student Julia McCabe, living sustainably is part of everything she does from school to work to family. She can tell you how to create your own home composting bin — and how to care for the worms that do all of the work within it. She can share with you what can and can’t be recycled and practices the three R’s of sustainability — reduce, reuse, recycle — every day.
At Temple University Ambler, McCabe, 36 from Upper Dublin, is president of the Temple Planning Student Organization, Co-Chair of the Ambler Campus Sustainability Council, and a research assistant with the Center for Sustainable Communities. At home, she can regularly be found at the Pennypack Farm & Education Center, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in Horsham and is a member of the Upper Dublin Environmental Protection Advisory Board.
In spring 2011, McCabe was honored with a Sustainability Leadership award. This April, McCabe was the recipient of the Community and Regional Planning Award for Outstanding Service and now, degree soon to be in hand, has her sights set firmly on a future of developing and promoting sustainable agriculture.
“I worked in communications for seven years with Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia. It was good for what it was, but I knew the next step for me was to pursue a master’s degree to take my career to the next level,” she said. “I really didn’t have to look any further than Temple University and the Ambler Campus. I’ve always had a passion for sustainability and the courses in Temple’s Community and Regional Planning program focus a great deal on sustainable concepts. I felt that learning about planning would enable me to share sustainable concepts in a professional way.”
As a parent, McCabe said before returning to the classroom she had to “find a situation where I could be a mother and a good student — a suburban campus offered me a great balance between the two.”
“When I started at Ambler my daughter Maisie was 4. When Maisie entered kindergarten, I told her we were both going to school,” she said. “It’s important to me to be a good role model and show her the importance of education and the importance of women empowering themselves at home and within the workforce.”
From the first day in the classroom at Temple, McCabe said, her professors treated the students as professionals “and expected you to approach your projects in that way.”
“There are so many paths you could take in the field — transportation planning, emergency management, urban planning. They let you find your own way and plan your own future — I never felt like I had to be a “traditional” planner,” she said. “You’re given a wide variety of educational experiences inside and outside of the classroom and I immersed myself in any opportunity to learn, network, and enhance my knowledge.”
McCabe said she found her planning niche within the past year — food systems planning, urban agriculture and sustainable agriculture.
“Food systems planning is about helping cities or towns have healthy food access and access to local food and doing this through ordinances and programs that encourage sustainable farming,” she said. “In urban environments, you can create access to healthy produce whether it’s creating a community garden in a vacant lot, a rooftop garden or a window box. You can re-introduce nature to residents and children in a city environment — gardening is excellent for your physical and mental well-being.”
She’s already been able to apply her food systems interest to real-world applications in her community and regional planning studio,” McCabe said.
For their capstone studio this spring, a team of about 16 students have worked on a project for the City of Chester, which was one of seven chosen for a White House initiative called Strong Cities, Strong Communities, she said.
“While we’re examining a broad range of community concerns such as economic development and revitalization, my section is focused on food accessibility. We’re recommending initiatives like community gardens and “healthy corner stores” — providing resources and incentives to existing stores to offer healthy options,” she said. “These are realistic options that could be implemented. We’ve approached the project just as a planning firm would. We consider ourselves consultants for the city and on May 16 we’ll present our findings to the Chester City Council. This is how the program readies you for the planning field — you’re essentially already working in the profession before ever leaving the classroom.”