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An understanding of the environment is reached by examining lifestyles, values, societal norms, cultural heritage, and numerous other abstract concepts within a practical framework. The academic perspective on these elements is essential, but inadequate in and of itself. Understanding the concept of urban self-reliance begins when individuals re-examine their own lifestyles and take action to change.

The UEL as a working model anchors these goals in concrete application. The 100 year-old carriage house, retrofitted with superinsulation, passive solar heating, and a solar greenhouse, integrates a community center and educational facility under one roof. Working in the building, using its resources, and sharing in the responsibility of maintaining it, students attain a degree of environmental consciousness and urban self-sufficiency that a textbook or lecture could never hope to convey. Likewise, interested community members or groups can get a firsthand appreciation of "appropriate technologies" at the UEL.

See a presentation showing the renovation of the Urban Environmental Laboratory to house the Center for Environmental Studies in the early 1980's. This presentation was created for the UEL's 20th Anniversary Celebration. This show also chronicles the building of the UEL Community Garden.

Should This Building be Saved? See the Brown Alumni Magazine's feature article "What's in a Building?" in the September/October 2008 issue for more on the debate over the fate of the UEL.