"How did you get here tonight?"


Last May, I was asked a simple question that has stuck with me: how do people get to the Poetry Center? The question came during a U.S. Green Building Council event that I attended on behalf of the Poetry Center’s Green Team, three Poetry Center staffers (Sarah Kortemeier, Wendy Burk, and myself) doing what we can to make the Poetry Center a more sustainable place. The event was a KickStart session, a USGBC workshop that encourages organizations to think about how sustainability aligns with their values. When the question was posed—how do people literally get to your building?—I was stumped. From my spot at the front desk, I see people come into the library and arrive at events, but whether they come by bike, on foot, or by car is beyond what I can observe.

Do our individual transportation choices really impact climate change? In 2014, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 26% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation, with the largest sources of emissions in that sector being “passenger cars and light-duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans.” Collectively, then, how much we drive can make a significant difference. For the Green Team, choosing alternative means of transportation is an everyday occurrence: Sarah and Wendy bike, and I take the bus or sometimes walk (do you know that UA students, faculty, and staff can get half-price SunTran passes? Pima County employees also have a similar program). Given the difficulty and cost of parking on campus, bussing or walking is an easy choice that saves me money and frustration, while also reducing my carbon footprint.   

Motivated by a desire to learn more about how people get to the Poetry Center, the Green Team decided to conduct an informal transportation survey at the Climate Change & Poetry readings. Using readily available, less-than-precise instruments—six jars and several hundred decorative marbles—we took a poll of the audience at the Climate Change readings, asking them to tell us how they arrived at the event: in a car alone, by carpooling, biking, walking, public transportation, or motorcycle. We hoped both to learn about people’s choices and to quietly encourage people to choose something other than driving alone when possible.

So how did people get to the Climate Change & Poetry readings? Throughout the seven readings of the series, 518 people participated in the survey (thank you if you are one of them!): 1% drove a motorcycle, 5% used public transportation, 12% biked, 20% walked, 26% carpooled, and 36% drove alone. A graph showing responses for individual readings can be found below.

How do you get to the Poetry Center? When Ross Gay read for the Climate Change series on January 19, he offered some good advice in his poem “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” taken from his experience with a community orchard:

“and friends this is the realest place I know,

it makes me squirm like a worm I am so grateful,

you could ride your bike there

or roller skate or catch the bus”

The Green Team invites you to ride a bike, push a stroller, hop on the number 4 or number 5 bus, cruise over on the streetcar, or gather a car-load of friends the next time you’re coming our way. We’ll add you to our catalog of unabashed gratitude.