If You Build It, they will come (and make a difference)
Students contribute to community innovation projects
Sher Scott - February 8, 2013
Community-focused and sustainability-minded, the students involved in If You Build It are helping to create a more collaborative city, one idea at a time.
A year ago this spring, a group of Dal students were sitting with Lil MacPherson, Halifax businesswoman and owner of the Wooden Monkey restaurant, at her kitchen table. They were musing about the possibility of powering her Tatamagouche home with a wind turbine. She loved the idea, and decided to invest.
“If you build it, I’ll pay for it,” she told the group.
Five weeks, 30 people and a mere $2,500 later they had built a community out of a wind turbine.
“We didn’t know what we were doing, but everyone had something to bring to the table,” says Stephen Thomas, a founding member of If You Build It. “When no one had the knowledge we needed to get to the next step, someone knew someone who did. It was, and is, about learning and doing together.”
With the turbine up and running, wired to a battery, inverter and charge converter in MacPherson’s basement, the young innovators could have patted themselves on the back and gone their separate ways. Instead, they began looking for a new idea to keep the ball rolling and build an even broader community.
Expanding their model
That next idea came from a group of cyclists. “We knew we wanted renewable energy we could take anywhere,” recalls Kiki Wood of the early planning stages. “We can go anywhere in the city on our bikes, so we decided to build panels we can carry in trailers wherever we go.”
Setting out again with only a cursory technical knowledge of what they were taking on, and this time bolstered by a cash award for their film about building the turbine, the group looked to the community for expertise.
Two or three engineering Dal students have taken on some the more technical elements of the design. “It’s nice to have the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in school,” says student Myles Cornish. “It really gives a sense of things coming together.”
The end goal is to have enough portable energy to run outdoor film screenings and other events in the community. That much energy will require seven or eight trailer panels, each with a battery, charge converter and inverter connected.
Taking things off-campus
To date, the group’s build days have taken place in Gerard Hall on Sexton Campus, although Thomas emphasizes that just because the events have been at Dal does not mean they are only for students. “A major part of our philosophy is that everyone has something to learn and something to teach. All are welcome.”
In fact, If You Build It is moving off-campus for some upcoming build days. “Having builds in public places cultivates openness between students and the community that fosters us,” Taylor says. “The more perspectives we have, the stronger the project will be.
There is no minimum time commitment or skill level to participate in a build day or help with the project. Dates and locations for upcoming builds will be posted to the group’s Facebook page and Twitter account, @IfYouBuild.