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MIT Better World

By Amy Mackin

In 2017, members of the MIT Undergraduate Association Committee on Sustainability pursued an opportunity to launch a large-scale project on campus. The committee generated multiple ideas and then polled the undergraduate population, which voted for a collaboratively designed and maintained garden. This idea became a reality this past September, with the additional goals of educating and engaging students in sustainability efforts, providing a community gathering space, and offering a supportive environment for bees, birds, butterflies, and moths.

“We envision the garden functioning as an observational tool to explore important questions about our environment,” says Susy Jones, senior project manager at the MIT Office for Sustainability, who worked closely with the students and supervised the project. “We can ask: How do our plants respond to stress from extreme weather events? When do they flower year over year? Which plants attract the most bees? We look forward to exploring these questions with students, researchers, and community members.”

Collaborators are equally excited to see how the garden will impact the MIT community, from serving as a peaceful reading space to a place to share a meal and chat. In the warm months, they expect the space to be buzzing with activity from students, as well as from birds and insects.

“Our hope is that the Hive will serve as a model for future urban gardens, both on the MIT campus and elsewhere,” says Julie Newman, director of sustainability at MIT. “Ideas from students include integrating water capture, solar energy, and public art into open spaces like this on campus.”

Meanwhile, students who helped build the Hive began designing and building interpretative signs for the garden this winter, hoping to have them ready for spring. “That’s been part of the student learning experience—how do you communicate the value of the garden, tell the story, engage passersby in science and ecology, and activate this outdoor site as a place of learning?” says Jones. By consulting with partners in campus operations and makerspaces on the physical process of building signage, this project takes on yet another cross-disciplinary component, paralleling the diverse natural ecosystem of the garden.