by Megan Smith, OTH

In honor of Earth Month 2022, OTH is highlighting The Alternatives Project (TAP) and three of their associated organizations for their efforts in environmental justice. These organizations exemplify the power of the people to resist the current extractive economy organizing society today and offer hope that there are alternatives to creating an equal and sustainable future for humanity and our earth. TAP is a transnational organization on a mission to build “a global collective, critical voice-oriented towards education. 


Read about UPROSE, a women of color-led, grassroots organization that established Sunset Park Climate Justice Center, a climate adaptation and community resiliency planning project in Brooklyn, New York.

The Sunrise Movement

The Sunrise Movement is a youth led movement that is fighting climate change through their current campaign “The Green New Deal,” a congressional resolution to mobilize American society to use 100% clean and renewable energy, sustainable living-wage jobs for all, and a people centered economy.

The United Frontline Table

The United Frontline Table is an indigenous-led organization that is human-centered and focused on building a regenerative economy that respects the principle of all peoples right to health and equal environmental law.


by Jamie Saxon, Office of Communications

This article was originally published by the Office of Communications at Princeton University. OTH received permission to republish this article and the original story can be viewed here.

Since 2014, this interdisciplinary program housed in the School of Architecture has brought together students and faculty with an interest in cities and the built environment through public programming and a series of undergraduate and graduate courses.

A critical component of the initiative is a fellowship program that brings a small select cohort of scholars to campus annually.                              

In addition to their own research, the Princeton Mellon Fellows teach courses and contribute to programming related to the initiative’s continuing theme, “Cities on the Edge: Hemispheric Comparisons and Connections.” This theme explores the ways in which cities exist on the edge of sustainability and climate change, are sites for the connective and comparative study of migration, and allow for scholarship that foregrounds hemispheric comparisons and connections. The program also creates opportunities for social justice-oriented scholarship and civic engagement within urban studies.

Fellows also present and discuss their research as part of the Mellon Forum on the Urban Environmentwhich serves as the intellectual core of the program.

Principal investigators Mario Gandelsonas, the Class of 1913 Lecturer in Architecture, professor of the School of Architecture and director of the Program in Urban Studies, and Alison Isenberg, professor of history, lead the cohort.

Gandelsonas said the fellows contribute in important ways to the School of Architecture (SoA), where their impact in the classroom inspires and informs the work of undergraduate and graduate students.

“The Mellon Initiative Fellows have been teaching courses at the SoA that expand the range of offerings and subjects with a focus on urbanism, urban architecture and planning,” he said. “The influence of these very well-attended courses is visible particularly in the graduate program, where an increasing number of students have been proposing themes for their master’s theses related to urban and environmental issues.”

Each year, one of the fellows also co-teaches with Gandelsonas the undergraduate interdisciplinary urban studio (ARC205) at the School of Architecture. “The role of the Mellon fellow has been, on one hand to develop a seminar that is an integral part of this unique studio, and on the other hand to bring an interdisciplinary voice that expands and enriches the development of the student projects,” Gandelsonas said.

‘A truly interdisciplinary cohort’

From initial partnerships with the School of Architecture, the Humanities Council and the Program in Latin America Studies, the Mellon Initiative now works with most academic units across campus. The initiative collaborates closely with High Meadows Environmental Institute, PIIRS, SPIA, the Lewis Center for the Arts, and the Metropolis Project of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, as well as many humanities departments to bring in each year’s Mellon Fellows. These connections, Isenberg said, “creates a truly interdisciplinary cohort.”

Every fellow teaches at least one course, which in some cases helps campus partners fill shifting demands in methods or topics.

“We bring to campus top scholars in disciplines with large student interest but no Princeton department, for example, in fields like urban planning and geography,” said Isenberg, who has worked with the Mellon Initiative since its launch. She added that these courses also serve the University by “bridging humanities and the arts to engineering, policy and environmental studies.” Fellows also have helped campus partners expand scholarship in fields such as trans and queer studies, and gender and sexuality studies.

“Having a call for interdisciplinary fellows each year enables us to hire a dynamic group of scholars who are at the leading edge of their fields,” said Aaron Shkuda, program manager of the Princeton Mellon Initiative and a lecturer in architecture. Often the fellows have combined advanced degrees from several fields such as landscape architecture and geography, urban planning and international development, or engineering and anthropology.

“This interdisciplinarity helps illuminate the research and teaching opportunities of the fellows program,” Isenberg said. 

New areas of research and scholarship

Shkuda added that the fellows have an important impact on the future direction of teaching and research on cities and the built environment at the University.

“Our fellows design programming and classes that draw broad interest from students, faculty and the public at large,” he said. “They are often among the first Princeton scholars to focus on topics that have come to define discourse across the disciplines, such as the way climate change has changed our view of urban planning and architecture; the intersection between race, gender and the urban environment; the study of camps, prisons and borders; and the way that architecture was critical to nation-building in postcolonial societies.”

Isenberg said that the biggest development since the Mellon Initiative’s inception in 2014 has been the University’s decision to continue the program beyond 2025, the final year of support from the Mellon Foundation.

In many ways that was the Mellon Foundation’s goal, Isenberg noted. Princeton is one of more than a dozen research universities and institutes in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and South Africa that the Mellon Foundation engages and connects through its Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities initiative.

“The Foundation helped spark new research and teaching collaborations that maximized the unique departmental and programmatic configuration of each university or institution,” she said. “At Princeton, the initiative demonstrated the intellectual vitality of this field at the intersection of architecture, urbanism and the humanities, while simultaneously joining forces with existing programs on campus to strengthen their respective priorities.”

Below, meet this year’s fellows and learn about the focus of their research and teaching in the classroom.

Chandana Anusha

Chandana Anusha is a scholar of social and environmental dynamics in India, with a special interest in coastal regions. Her research focuses on how ecological and infrastructural processes intersect in an era defined by climate change and global trade.

This spring, she is teaching the course “Coastal Justice: Ecologies, Societies, Infrastructures in South Asia.”

Anusha’s fellowship is made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the M.S. Chadha Center for Global India and the Princeton Institute for International & Regional Studies.

Devanne Brookins

Devanne Brookins’research explores comparative urban studies, urban transformation and the production of inequality, with a focus on African cities. This agenda is driven by a desire to understand how urban transformations in Sub-Saharan Africa reflect and differ from those in regions that have bridged the urban transition in earlier periods.

With urbanization and transformation proliferating across Africa, many urban development interventions are taking place amid questions regarding the governance of urban land: how it is assembled, how the value is captured and distributed, and who has access. These contemporary processes of urbanization, expansion and restructuring are producing concerning patterns of inequality. Brookins examines how urban inequality is manufactured through governance processes as socio-political compromises that become spatially embedded in land and the built environment.

This spring, she is teaching two graduate courses in Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs: “Urbanization and Development” and, with Keith Wailoo, the Henry Putnam University Professor of History and Public Affairs, “Identity, Power and Policy.”

Dean Chahim

Dean Chahim’s research examines the relationship between engineering, political power and the production of urban environments. His current project is an ethnography and history of flood control engineering and urbanization in Mexico City. It examines how engineers, under political pressure to enable urban growth, have transformed flooding into a routinized and spatially diffuse form of environmental suffering that disproportionately affects the urban poor.

This spring, he is teaching the undergraduate course “Engineering Justice and the City: Technologies, Environments, and Power.”

His fellowship is made possible through the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Humanities Council, the University Center for Human Values, the Metropolis Project, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Chukwuemeka V. Chukwuemeka

Chukwuemeka V. Chukwuemeka is an architect and urbanist with international experience in project development, project management and systems design. His research is on emergent dynamics and self-organization processes of spatial productions in rapidly urbanizing sub-Saharan African cities, with a focus on Onitsha Markets in Nigeria.

In fall 2021, he and Gandelsonas co-taught the undergraduate course “Interdisciplinary Design Studio” for certificate students in the Program in Urban Studies.

Chukwuemeka’s fellowship is made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Program in African Studies, and the Princeton Institute for International & Regional Studies.

Seth Denizen

Seth Denizen is a researcher and design practitioner trained in landscape architecture and human geography. His published work is multidisciplinary, addressing art and design, microbial ecology, soil science, urban geography and the politics of climate change. He is currently a member of the editorial board of Scapegoat Journal: Architecture/Landscape/Political Economy.

In fall 2021, he taught the undergraduate course “Thinking Through Soil.”

Denizen’s fellowship is sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the High Meadows Environmental Institute.

Shoshana Goldstein

Shoshana Goldstein’s research explores the impacts of India’s economic liberalization on urban planning, governance, and placemaking for migrant and formerly agrarian communities in peri-urban New Delhi. Her current project charts the complex planning history of Delhi’s satellite city, Gurgaon.

In fall 2021, she taught the undergraduate course “South Asian Migrations.” This spring, she is teaching an undergraduate policy research seminar.

Goldstein’s fellowship is sponsored by the the M.S. Chadha Center for Global India, the Princeton Institute for International & Regional Studies, and the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

Davy Knittle

Davy Knittle’s research considers how normative ideas of race, sexuality and gender have shaped the redevelopment of the built and non-built environments of U.S. cities from the 1950s to the present. His current book project, “Designs on the Future: Gender, Race, and Environment in the Transitional City,” uses a multidisciplinary archive of literary and cultural texts to trace resistance to dominant narratives of urban progress.

“Designs on the Future” engages a queer and trans method of reading urban and environmental change that identifies the entanglement of urban, environmental, and queer and trans experiences of loss in U.S. cities in the wake of urban renewal.

This spring, he is teaching the undergraduate course “Race, Gender and the Urban Environment.”

Knittle’s fellowship is sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Effron Center for the Study of America and the High Meadows Environmental Institute. The fellowship will span the spring and fall 2022 semesters.

By Lisa M. Ruch

Environmental topics such as climate change and pollution garner widespread attention every April, but increasingly are the focus of more and more people year-round. These crises are not recent, but much of the focus on them has come from scientific disciplines and practitioners. When faced with the unsettling and at times alarming predictions of science, many in the general public shut down, either from fear or from a lack of emotional response to hard scientific data. Musician and composer Geoffrey Hudson, co-founder of Hybrid Vigor Music, Inc., considered the dilemma of how to engage the wider public into deeper thought about the topic to inspire change and realized that music, with its power to evoke emotion, could be the perfect means. His choral oratorio A Passion for the Planet is the result.


The piece, which runs to an hour in performance time, is written for adult and children’s choirs, two soloists, and orchestra. Rather than write lyrics for the entire piece, Hudson spent months reading scientific studies, looking for passages to integrate into the work. Books such as David Orr’s Dangerous Years1, Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded2, and Bill McKibben’s Eaarth3 provided ample disturbing and stark images, while the now-famous “hockey stick” graph (Mann, et al.) made an ideal nexus point to aurally depict the extremity of crisis.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to sing in the premiere of A Passion for the Planet and went into the rehearsals curious about how this scientific prose and information would resonate in song. It was a novel experience to sing words and phrases such as “chemical sludge,” “primeval goo,” “cancer and cell mutations,” and “pollution and environmental damage.” Other singers seemed to have the same ambivalence at first, but as we became familiar with the texts and the music, acceptance and engagement came quickly. I found myself thinking more deeply about the topics, and fellow singers told me they did as well.

After an introduction that celebrates the Earth’s gifts and humanity’s place within it, the oratorio transitions to the grim depictions of pollution, abuse of natural resources, and overpopulation, rising to a literal crescendo in the seventh movement. Here Hudson composed a musical depiction of the hockey stick graph, with the planet’s average temperature over centuries represented by pitch, extinction rates represented by the number of notes per measure, and the rise in human population represented by dynamics. Over almost six minutes, the sound, steady and droning at first, builds to a cacophony in which the singers repeat phrases and deconstructed words of lament. As Hudson explained, “I didn’t need words for that—the data were enough” (Voth). The movement concludes abruptly and chillingly with a percussive crash followed by an ominous silence; it is emotional to sing and audience members reported that it was eerie and impactful to hear.

It is this ‘deer in the headlights’ fear and paralysis that prevents many people from delving deeper into these ecological issues; considering these crises in depth is frightening, and the problems seem huge and insurmountable. It is at this point in A Passion for the Planet that Hudson leverages a powerful cathartic emotional response by bringing in the children’s choir to sing, “What have you done / with what was given you, / what have you done with / the blue, beautiful world?” (Hudson, Movement VIII). This plaintive query, sung in the pure, innocent tones that only a children’s choir has, leaves listeners shaken and teary. The adult choir then joins the children, adding further details of the distressing impacts of humankind’s unchecked exploitation of natural resources.

Listeners are not left in limbo, however. A shift in tone, akin to the turn in a sonnet, opens the final portion of the oratorio, where Hudson wanted to give the audience hope and encouragement. David Orr’s trope that “hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up” (Hudson. Movement IX) invokes purposeful action, action carried out not by individuals working piecemeal, but by people working together. The choirs and soloists combine to represent this shared effort as they sing, “Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love; therefore we are saved by faith; therefore we shall be saved by hope” (Hudson, Movement X).

To involve the audience in this communal endeavor, Hudson chose to conclude the oratorio in the time-honored fashion with a chorale to be sung by the listeners along with the choirs. For the premiere performance, the audience was taught the chorale before the oratorio began so it was familiar to them. As they rose to sing it in the final movement, the atmosphere was electric. One audience member related afterward that singing it “was one of the most moving concert experiences of my life. When it came time for the audience to join in, I found it hard to sing, I was so overwhelmed—and looking around I realized that many audience members were in the same boat” (“Passion for the Planet”), while the conductor recalled, “It was such a thrill and emotionally overwhelming when the audience joined in during the performance. Many were in tears” (Thornton).


Learn More about A Passion for the Planet


This coming together as one group is symbolic of the potential power of people joining to address the ecological crises facing the planet and is the goal of A Passion for the Planet. Hybrid Vigor Music’s intention is to facilitate performances nationwide to encourage public involvement with climate and pollution issues and their remedies. The Covid-19 pandemic sidelined performances planned for 2020 and 2021, but in the interim the piece and its aims have been publicized by Hudson and climate scientists such as Bill McKibben and Michael Mann in webinars supported by the National Museum of Natural History, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other organizations.

Such interdisciplinary collaboration is the theme of A Passion for the Planet, showcasing both the powerful impact the humanities can have when leveraged in concert with the sciences—in this case, both literally and figuratively—and the myriad ways the humanities can benefit the public. After all, our planet’s systems are inextricably interconnected; our human endeavors must be as well.



  1. Orr, David W. Dangerous Years: Climate Change, the Long Emergency, and the Way Forward. Yale University Press, 2016.
  2. Friedman, Thomas L. Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How it Can Renew America. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.
  3. McKibben, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Times Books, 2010.


Works Cited

Hudson, Geoffrey. A Passion for the Planet, 2019.

Mann, Michael E., Raymond S. Bradley, and Malcolm K. Hughes. “Global-Scale Temperature Patterns and Climate Forcing over the Past Six Centuries.” Nature, vol. 392, 23 April 1998, pp. 779-787.

“A Passion for the Planet.” Hybrid Vigor Music, Accessed 11 April 2021.

Thornton, Tony. “A Passion for the Planet.” Choral Planet, Accessed 11 April 2021.

Voth, Ellen Gilson. Music in Response – 3. Farmington Valley Chorale. 21 February 2021. Webinar.

About the author:

Lisa M. Ruch is Professor of English and Communications and Assistant Dean of Liberal Studies at Bay Path University. She also sits on the Board of Directors of Hybrid Vigor Music, Inc. Her training in comparative literature has instilled in her a deep regard for interdisciplinary studies and the public value of the humanities.