We are happy to announce the location of our next ASLE conference will be the Oregon Convention Center (OCC) in beautiful Portland, Oregon. The conference is scheduled for July 6-9, 2021.
The OCC is an LEED Platinum Certified Facility and a pioneer in creating a space for green and sustainable meetings. Their commitments include energy reduction and solar power utilization, landfill waste minimization and recycling, watershed stewardship, air quality, supply chain carbon footprint reduction and community engagement. You can read more about why they make such a good partner for our organization here: https://www.oregoncc.org/en/about/sustainability
The space also has onsite restaurants, cafes and outdoor seating, with ample food choices (as well as parks) in the neighborhood. We are reserving hotel blocks in adjacent facilities to minimize driving, and securing dormitory space at nearby Portland State University. Portland possesses an international airport close to downtown with many direct flight connections and multiple public transportation options (see https://trimet.org/). There is also a drop-in day care center near the OCC that could be a boon to parents with young children (WeVillage, https://www.wevillage.com/centers/ne-portland). Portland is a culturally rich, vibrant and progressive city committed to sustainability and green initiatives. Nearby regions provide many opportunities for outdoor recreation, especially hiking.
We recognize that many among our membership have prized the “on campus” feel of previous conferences, but as our meetings have burgeoned that model has become unsustainable. Our biennial gatherings have grown considerably since the first few conferences set the campus model for ASLE, from around 300 people in the early 1990s to the more than 1100 who gathered in Davis this summer. Campuses, even large ones, have trouble accommodating that many attendees in centralized spaces. Even when we had 700 attendees, it was becoming difficult to house concurrent sessions or plenaries in adjacent buildings. ASLE is committed to accessibility, and it is clear that having the sessions spread across a campus poses mobility issues for many within our community. It was also becoming clear that a small group of committed academics (the usual composition of our local arrangements committee) should not have to sacrifice several months of their lives to run an event as large of this one, and when the event is running should be able to enjoy some of the fruits of their labor rather than open locked doors, troubleshoot housing and AV issues, pursue errant catering, and so on. The only alternative would be to keep the conference small — but a gathering that is not capacious, inclusive and welcoming runs contrary to our ASLE ethos. We do not want to shut doors or gate our community.
We have traditionally held our conference in the early summer, when attendees shouldn’t have to miss teaching sessions to attend and affordable housing in campus dormitories is available. The 2021 dates are slightly later than our typical times because those were the only dates that the OCC and Portland State University housing were both available. We thought it better to push the conference later so that housing options will be numerous. We are aware of the importance of affordability as a part of accessibility, and will contract a block of rooms with nearby Portland State University (a short MAX train ride from the OCC) in addition to two hotels right outside the OCC.
We realize that the feel of the conference changes when it gets very large, and ASLE prizes its intimate conference feel. We will work hard to maintain that closeness, and believe that will be a little easier now that we can all gather in the same space. We have always adopted the model of an “open tent” for our society, and remain committed to that vision as the diversity of the environmental humanities has been growing. Nearly 1500 people applied for the 2019 conference, and some very worthy presentations had to be turned away—not due to lack of merit, but due to lack of space. We think having it at the OCC will help bring people together by centralizing all our sessions, and also provide the room to include a wider array of scholars, writers and fellow travelers. We will look for opportunities at every turn to provide ways to connect attendees to the local environment and to each other.
In terms of geographic location, while we do want to have a conference back in the Eastern US soon, the short timeline and lack of viable dates at LEED Certified Platinum venues prohibited this in 2021 (there are currently only two LEED Platinum facilities in the nation that can accommodate our conference). We will look ahead and plan for a swing east in 2023, plus look for an off-year symposium being planned at the University of Delaware in 2022. We would also like to encourage members to organize and participate in our nearly carbon neutral virtual conferences (look for an announcement about 2020 very soon). Change is always a challenge, but good things can come from new ways of gathering together in our shared endeavors. We remain committed to fostering a community as wide and as diverse as we can: that is the only way to ensure a healthy future for the environmental humanities.
At our June officers meeting before the conference, we also discussed changes to our grants programs. As submissions to the Community Grants have been sparse, and the submissions to the Conference Travel Awards have grown immensely, it indicates a need to support our contingent, student, and international members more robustly through travel funding. Therefore, the EC voted to amend these programs in the following ways:
In conference years, we will increase our allocation from $5,000 to $10,000 for conference travel; in off-conference years, we will accept both subvention and translation grant submissions and allocate $5000 in total to these programs; we will discontinue the community grants, and instead add community activist panels to the conference program.
More personally, we want to thank you for the two years of support you have given us as co-presidents. We could not have achieved so much without you, and representing you has been an honor. You are in very good hands with Laura Barbas-Rhoden and Bethany Wiggin!
All our best,
Stacy Alaimo and Jeffrey Cohen