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A Cypriot climate researcher is visiting Peoria. Here are his impressions of the city

Dr. Alex Charalambides of the Cyprus University of Technology visited Bradley University and Peoria this week.
Tim Shelley
Dr. Alex Charalambides of the Cyprus University of Technology visited Bradley University and Peoria this week.

A visiting climate researcher from the island nation of Cyprus is taking in the city of Peoria this week. He's taking away a lot of impressions from his trip.

Dr. Alex Charalambides is an associate professor at the Cyprus University of Technology. He researches ways to better integrate solar energy into the grid, and how stakeholders can create ecosystems to facilitate a pathway to decarbonization.

Charalambides' goal is to help Cyprus go fully carbon-neutral. The island nation lies south of Turkey and east of Greece on the Mediterranean Sea.

"We are not connected anywhere on the grid with any other country. So if you have excess energy, you throw it away. If you don't have enough energy, you have blackouts," he said.

He said the proliferation of renewable energy complicates this picture. For Charalambides, Peoria and Bradley University are a case study in how a small community can compete and make an impact in this realm.

"I'm impressed of how many things you're doing in such a small city, you know, from what I understand about 100, 120,000 people, yet the level, and the quality of the workforce, and you have Caterpillar and OSF and the university and everything, it looks like a city of a million," he said.

But driving around the city for the past few days, Charalambides said he's confused why Peoria dedicates so much land to vehicular infrastructure.

"I don't understand why you have such big roads. The roads are empty," he said. "So why do you need the roads? Why don't you make them into parks? And (there's) so much parking space around restaurants, around the university that and they're empty. It's like, why?"

In his native Cyprus, Charalambides said roads are smaller. While that does lead to some traffic, he said cities are also more compact, with dozens of cafes, restaurants, and other businesses concentrated in a walkable distance. He said everything is more spread out in the U.S.

He said changing policies around building and parking capacity could make a big difference in shrinking down the scale, but that also means people becoming more comfortable with a longer walk from their parking space to their destination.

"The first reason you want to do it is not the environment, it's the quality of life of the citizens," he said. "The fact that, oh, I want the milk, I just walk out of my house, walk 10 minutes, get the milk, get everything else I want, and go back home, instead of getting a car, driving 15 minutes, buy milk and then driving 15 minutes back."

He said decreasing the cement and asphalt cover on the ground is also important for regulating temperature during the hot summers in Cyprus.

"It could get to 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer in the street, while if it's under shade, it will be 90 degrees. So that's a big difference," he said.

Going back to Cyprus, Charalambides said he hopes to emulate the collaboration between Caterpillar and Bradley University at his own institution, which is based in a city known for ship management. He said more cooperation could help those companies build their workforces and address challenges, particularly in the realm of sustainability.

"t's this kind of integration that I loved here that we don't have in Cyprus," he said.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.