What could matter more than how and where we live? In the deep past, answers to these questions were obvious ones about survival, dictated by concerns over water and security and food. Today, despite far greater physical safety and personal wealth, things seem more complicated: after thousands of years of practice, we seem further than ever from getting our living right. What’s more, in at least in the developed world we fret about a great deal: we worry about environment and energy supply, about real estate and property values, about what we eat and what we drink. We endure traffic and we suffer sprawl and the associated ills of alienation and lost community. We even fret about the answers. Often the piecemeal solutions proposed for our various woes challenge us with very different ways of life, or at the other extreme accept today's patterns of living without question. So, as we enter a future that will be filled with more people having ever-greater leverage on their environment, questions of how we can live with sustainable style and grace are not a luxury but a pressing practical matter.

Sometimes what is closest to us can be hardest to see, and the collection of essays in this book is an attempt to take a fresh look at the simple question of living, as seen through the laboratory of a college community. Lehigh University is a selective private research university located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, nearly equidistant from the urban centers in New York and Philadelphia. Lehigh's context is an interesting one, as the Lehigh Valley is a crucible for social and environmental change. Home to the Industrial Revolution, the region is still in a prolonged transition from its agricultural origins, its heavy industrial past, and its present reality, a swirling mixed-use blend of technology and service industries, suburban growth, and brownfields rejuvenation. Founded in 1865, with some 7,000 graduate and undergraduate students, over 1,600 faculty and staff, and three campuses spread over 1,600 acres, Lehigh is home to a complex set of communities faced with an interesting geographic challenge: the campus is draped over the steep slopes of South Mountain and is embedded in the historically ethnic and economically challenged Southside Bethlehem, separated from the tony historical district of Bethlehem proper by the Lehigh River, and, classically, the railroad tracks.

The essays in this book illuminate the landscape of post-industrial lifestyle from a number of directions. Mario Delgado explores the physical dimensions of the Lehigh campus and how geography and architecture matter in shaping a campus and its communities. Jason Morejon focuses on the unifying value of the gothic architecture common on the Lehigh campus. Aaron Wilensky and Michael Brunken analyze relationships within the campus and with its external world by examining retail and other interactions, including in Brunken's case the sourcing and nature of the food served on campus. Robert Li and David Tench, in their essays, consider the nature of the communities that inevitably spring into being on campus; these tribes and groupings and how they interact can make all the difference in shaping a greater campus community that connects to a wider context. Finally, Stephen LaLuna examines the rapidly expanding world of electronic communication and virtual environments and what these developments mean for community.

Each of these pieces alone provides an interesting take on what it means to live a quality life, and how we can work to realize such a life. Taken together, despite their diversity of approach, these chapters converge to a few common themes about how a campus—and by extension, any community— might be more vital, more integrated, and can function more sustainably. In a final chapter, the authors as a group argue that active engagement of all campus or community members can make a difference, that what is needed in general is a greater mindfulness about those aspects of life that matter. This is not very specific advice, but it is very good advice that can apply to more than just Lehigh and South Bethlehem. This integration and mindfulness need to be part of campus and community living, such that decisions about all manner of things, like buildings and food, need to be made with a bigger picture in mind than just immediate economic or programmatic needs. For a university this means thinking about its educational mission in the broadest sense; for a town or neighborhood, this means recalling its ultimate reason for existing, as a place where its people can live well.

One more note. These essays are part of an investigations course that is a core part of the South Mountain College program at Lehigh. It's worth knowing that the organization, preparation, writing, editing, and production of this work have been entirely in student hands. This book is not the outcome of an academic workshop, but as advertised is a fresh look at a venerable but pressing problem.

Peter Zeitler
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
March, 2010

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License