Can innovation really help those kids at risk?

I’ve talked to some case managers in special education programs and I’ve heard some distressing stories. I’ve heard story of a boy who grew up in an extremely negative environment and had his first drug with his father; I’ve heard story of a little boy who came from a financially-broke family that had no place to stay, thus he chose to sleep in neighbor’s backyard secretly before social worker found him; I’ve heard a story of a kid who got caught asking people for money in gas station otherwise he would tell police that he was bullied by them……

Commonly, we label those kids as “high-risk” kids regardless the reasons why they end up being “different”. We put them in special education programs or Juvenile detention centers, and we expect them to get back to normal life after they finish their sessions. But things don’t work that easily. The reality is these kids won’t get back on track if the core reasons for which they became who they are, are not addressed.

In this era, people put more and more attention on special education, for those high-risk kids. This is a good. More and more nonprofit organizations commit themselves in this ‘battle’. Some of them advertise on their innovative models. Indeed, they offer amazing programs that allow kids to get in touch with community and the local firms. They arrange peer-teachings or utilize all the advanced facilities to help kids focus or monitor their improvement, etc. Well, they really try hard. I don’t deny that some of these programs really help those kids. But I highly doubt that those innovative models are the reason.

It is simple. We need to address the core reasons as to why those kids are off track. And in most cases those reasons are lack of care, love and trust. Regardless of the things they did, gender, age, area, family income or all those stuff, what those kids need the most is someone who can really care about them, love them, and someone whom the kids can really trust. Can those special programs really help them simply by adopting an innovation in the method of teaching, or the way the organization works or the way to get funding? Of course NOT!

I’ve heard a lot sad stories, but I’ve also heard some exciting ones. I’ve heard story of a social worker who spend years talking through the bedroom door to a little girl who was extremely scared of the world, and finally got some words from her and eventually sentences from her; I’ve heard about a kid who decided to quit illegal tagging because he got inspired by his teacher who made money by teaching legal graffiti and the kid said “he saw the hope of his dream came true”; I’ve heard that some kids wanted to become social worker after they grow up since they felt being loved and they wanted to do the same thing for other……

Like the title of the reading – ‘Innovation Is Not the Holy Grail’. Some people love talking about education innovation, and love talking about new ideas. Well, it is good if one day we can really come up with a brilliant idea to help those kids more effectively. But I also hope that people don’t forget the key is care, love and trust which innovation can’t replace. Maybe a ‘committed long-term engagement that enables steady and less risky progress’[1] is also a good focus.

[1] Mair, Johanna, and Christian Seelos. “Innovation Is Not the Holy Grail (SSIR).”Innovation Is Not the Holy Grail. Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2012.

By Siyun

(this is not my blog 3)

Team 2 – Ken Chu – Blog entry 3

Our group is working on urban blight.

As our work has evolved, many of our notions of what we thought we knew about blight and abandoned properties have been challenged, remedied, and refined.  Wilkinsburg, once a vibrant and important commercial part of Pittsburgh’s landscape experienced a decline sometime in the 1970s.  Part of this can be attributed to the decline of the steel industry (systemic change), and part of this can be attributed to a shift in population to more residential suburban neighborhoods (cultural and behavioral shift).  As the population changed, so did the economics of the area, ultimately leading to a variety of factors that have led to properties becoming vacant, which is a cycle that has high potential for replicating itself.

The challenges to this problem have been overwhelming to encounter.  The reasons “why” have been so varied and complex.  The many tools and programs that exist to help combat blight, while encouraging to find out about, have seemed a bit cumbersome to utilize and the barriers to entry do not encourage people to see them as viable options.  Finding a space to work here has been a balance of what has inspired us as we have made this journey, what we think is realistically achievable, what we think is actually needed, and what some of the stakeholders have told us is a gap that needs to be filled.  Even the negotiation of all of these demands has seemed overwhelming at times.

Jeremy Resnick’s visit to class was pretty inspiring and his whole message that, at some point, while we all have good intentions to make the world a better place and want to solve all the world’s problems, we become more effective change agents if we spend less time worrying about where to start and what to do and make a decision about doing something and then doing it.  But we were also fortunate in that our meeting with Dee Briggs of the House of Gold seemed to be a real turning point in terms of revealing a space for us to work in.  She described her painting of the vacant property adjacent to her own studio and home as a way of “dematerializing” the building and that the use of metallic gold paint to completely cover the house as a metaphor for returning value to a property that otherwise is seen as having no value.

I’m very proud of the work that my team has been doing.  I feel that I have been challenged by them, supported by them, cheered on and cheered up by them, put in place by them, and impressed by them.  Because of our unique dynamic and our very different backgrounds, I think we have negotiated a space to work in that is viable, useful, timely, appealing, resourceful, and unique from anything that currently exists.

Cultural themes that are currently gaining in popularity are 1) a re-population of inner city neighborhoods, 2) a growth in DIY activities, and 3) increased nostalgia for vintage goods and greater interest in re-purposing versus discarding of resources.  As Pittsburgh’s economy improves with growth in population and industry, so too will the need for housing.  With the Land Bank having been passed into law in Pittsburgh, boroughs such as Wilkinsburg might follow suit, adding to the tools and resources available to newcomers to the market to engage opportunities to acquire a building with history and a past life and to breathe new life into it with all the excitement of the potential that lies in store for the future.  Our project and design is well situated to not only connect these potential homeowners to the properties that are looking for them, but to position these buildings in a space that is no longer one of neglect and of undesirability, but one of pride and of worth and perhaps of surprising appeal.

I have been overwhelmed and daunted by our charge and by our tasks.  I have been defensive and reactive to feedback to initial ideas and thoughts.  But I also know that all of these things have pushed us to explore and refine a space that is truly invigorating and inspiring.  The research that we have been working on, the resources we have been collecting, the artifacts that we have been designing, the processes that we have been developing – the space that we are creating, has been really exciting and fun to work on.  This last phase has seemed like the phase that I have been waiting for all along.

There are many reasons why our design might fail and many barriers to our work.  But there are also many reasons why we should succeed.  In fact, initial feedback to our work has been excitement from stakeholders and validation from people working in this space.

I am eager to share our work and take pride in the work that we are doing because I have confidence that it will be impactful.

impact

The Blight at the End of the Tunnel – Rene Cuenca, Team 2

Changing the perception of blight in the neighborhood of Wilkinsburg has been the underlying mantra moving our project forward from the start. The more we delve into how the houses have come to be vacant the more I understand how they may be decaying, but they are definitely not dead: they are filled with possibilities for exploration, inspiring historical visions, quiet moments, architectural playfulness, habituated space and artistic precedent. Some years back I read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem ‘Blight’ and I can’t help but finally think back on it while researching this issue, talking to neighborhood stakeholders and looking at old photographs. I draw multiple similarities. As one of the fathers of the Transcendentalist movement, he believed that each person is a microcosm of the entire universe and that everything is a connected part of the whole. And in this issue of blighted communities, so are the houses. They can be seen as individual vacant lots in the neighborhood but are so interconnected with their shared neighborhood histories that it makes them essential to community identity over time. In Emerson’s “Blight” there is a lament about people’s increasing reliance on science and the scientific method at the expense of their own innate knowledge as part of a great universal whole. The poem is a passionate call for humanity to give life its full measure of depth and meaning by rejecting materialism and giving up its reliance on scientific methodology as the only way to find truth. This too is true in connection to vacancy in Wilkinsburg; in so far, the fight against blight is measured in absolute economic outcomes, opting for the bulldozer and renovation as the solution. But does that increase community empowerment? Does that build a network of resilient approaches to urban planning, or provide new models? Does that ensure that the needs of the community are met?

The prompt asks why we should address the issue of blight now, and how our project could benefit from the circumstances that have made it so. Our principles are simple: looking back to move forward / treating buildings as if they were people. You can demolish all the blighted properties in Wilkinsburg, turn them into vacant lots. But that solution is very similar to the approaches to homelessness which many cities in the U.S have come under recent scrutiny. Namely, that simply evicting the homeless from the city and making them go away will solve to the problem. People make history and these buildings are history in themselves. Our group has been focused on connecting people with histories of their neighborhood in order to nourish a sense of community pride and give them the ability to envision a neighborhood that will move forward and beyond. Through a “Vacant House Tour” that engages both residents and potential house buyers we can start to change the dialog of what vacant buildings mean to Wilkinsburg through history and design. Critics of ruin porn argue that the photos documenting blight are meant for consumption by outsiders who don’t understand or acknowledge the roots or consequences of blight. This is exactly what we want to address. We want to create the same effect that perhaps Ansel Adams’ photographs of Yosemite had on the commercialization on public natural wonders, saving the land and spurring environmental action. Add to this a neighborhood ‘historic tour’ with vacant lots as a way to highlight history, community, and possibilities.

The time is now because we the city is finally realizing blight as opportunity. There are a lot of nighborhood organizations working on the issue, and with the Land Bank becoming a close reality, solutions to blight are relevant policy alternatives to the existing approaches. Before, Wilkinsburg used to be a booming area of Pittsburgh with a lot of well-to-do immigrants choosing to settle there.In the 1800s rich European immigrants saw a vision and set out to build a borough that was vibrant. Around the 1920’s Wilkinsburg’s vibrancy was illustrated by the number of high-end businesses that were opened and the impressive houses that were built. The neighborhood had some of the best schools, a busy train station, and a desirable main street….. A lot has changed since then, but also nothing has: as we have found out, the people that live in Wilkinsburg are still rich, but in a different sort of way. It is not what it used to be, but it is definitively not dead. What is left now looks like a painful bruise, one that came from the collapse of the steel industry. The population of Wilkinsburg decreased dramatically but the infrastructure didn’t. And with the inability to make neighborhoods that are resilient and strong, once that cycle was broken the neighborhood fell into one long path of blight. Now that Rustbelt cities are slowing coming back into the playing field, they have labeled these vacant lots as sour remainders of what happened, more often than not neglecting their share of neighborhood identity, history, and communities. Blight in wilkinsburg is seen as an end result of what happened after the Steel Industry collapse rather than as a part of a larger urban process of life and death.

The horrifyingly reductive thing about a Wilkinsburg make-over by outsiders in their image is how narrowly that defines the past abandonments, betrayals and defeats, rather than the rich history and culture they have given the country, continue to generate, and how heroic the endurance, creativity, and work ethic of people from Wilkinsburg has been. Can our project fill this gap… or at least attempt to do so? For our project, we want for people to rethink about that left infrastructure both in the way they served the neighborhood before and what they could serve for in the future. It is time to write the next chapter of the book for Wilkinsburg, one sees the blight at the end of the tunnel.

How Food Deserts Could Evolve in the Future – Jay Liu – Blog Post #3

This blog post tries to look at the circumstances, events, and decisions that could positively or negatively affect our team’s issue (food deserts), on the individual, organizational, or policy level.

Unifying Entities to Change Policy

The people and organizations involved with community gardens have a strong presence in Pittsburgh, as individual entities. It seems to be the organization and unity is something that will need to improve over time. I’m confident that it is likely to happen naturally, as the community matures as a whole.

Those involved with establishing and maintaining community gardens will need to be unified. The policy that prevents community gardens from sustaining themselves through the sale of its produce is quite egregious. Unfortunately, I did not observe for long enough at the level of policy to be able to predict whether it seems likely these policies will change. For now, I just think that people in this space could produce a clearer, more amplified voice if they were united, and that policies will be more likely to change to better support the interests of community gardens, and better enable their role in promoting healthy eating for the general public.

Garden’s Resilience

Earlier in my research, one of the interviewees brought up the notion that community gardens often rely on a single individual to keep going. It wasn’t until just yesterday I finally found some evidence of a community garden that might have a good way of continuing the gardening efforts despite losing a key player. Instead of having one leader in charge of everything, the committee members at Bowler Green each contribute a number of specialties and fill certain roles. It would be interesting to determine how that structure came to be, and whether it could be applied to other gardens where there does seem to be a solo-champion at the helm.

Truly Alleviating Food Insecurity

The notion community gardens will alleviate food deserts might be a bit naïve for a number of reasons, including the aforementioned reason of policies that heavily restrict the sales of the food grown within gardens. Another component is the cultural issue, which if time permits, I would love to better understand, to see how much of an issue it is.

Even if the food were accessible, people need to know what to do with it and have a way of receiving it into their daily lives. Will the richer continue to get richer, and the poorer continue to grow poorer? In other words, will the people eating healthy now continue to eat healthy, while the people who used to live in food deserts continue to stay undernourished? Will the demolition of the “food access” wall be like that of the Berlin Wall, where people cheered when it happened but still did not freely inter-mingle afterwards because they had become set in their ways?

As someone relatively fresh in the world of policy and food security, I would appreciate your more informed views on this matter, and welcome you to comment below.

Looking at the past for the future

By: Robyn Lambert (team 2)

The blog post prompt is, “Many societal problems that we acknowledge today are the result of a series of circumstances, events, and decisions made in the past.” This is interesting because our group has been looking to the history and the story of blighted houses. When looking at the photos of Wilkinsburg and the people were involved in these houses, I couldn’t help but notice that the entire population was white. It made me realize there is still a lot of information about the borough that I have yet to research and understand.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 4.11.18 PM Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 4.11.48 PM

So after this experience, I realized despite how obvious it might seem. I have yet to research the neighborhood of Wilkinsburg as a whole. So below is a short history of Wilkinsburg, I researched and wrote:

Wilkinsburg became borough in 1871. It seceded from the city of Pittsburgh in order to protect its religious integrity. The community was originally almost mostly protestant, in a predominantly catholic region. And it is for these religious beliefs the neighborhood has a large number of churches and is dry. In around 1920, Wilkinsburg became one of Pittsburgh’s most outstanding neighborhoods. The schools were good and many people living in the area were very prosperous. In 1937, roughly 85% of household had telephones, 95% had radios, and 55% had cars. The city was its most prosperous from 1920 – 1950.

However, like today the city was a transitional neighborhood. Families would live in Wilkinsburg until they became more prosperous. And then they would move to Edgewood, Monroeville, or Fox Chapel, which are some of the wealthier neighborhoods in the region. Additionally, I found out that Regent Square and Blackridge have always been the most prosperous areas of Wilkinsburg. The rest of the Wilkinsburg was middle and upper-middle class, with  most of the residents being white-collar managerial workers. The population also included clergy and medical professionals.

The city had a large population boom from 1920 – 1950. Wilkinsburgh has 37,000 people in 2.2 square miles. During this time Wilkinsburg was the most densely populated borough in the county. A large portion of this population was due to the Westinghouse and the steel mills. However, in the 70’s and 80’s the steal industry suffered many losses and had massive layoffs. This proved to have the largest impact on the population in Wilkinsburg. The population has shrunk by more than 50% from 1950 to 2000, which is close to 330,000. The population has shrunk even more to 15,882.

In 1995, Wilkinsburg was home to the gang Larimer Avenue – Wlkinsburg (law). Currently the average income is: $33,062 and the population is 66% black. (below is and image of the current demographics in Pittsburgh which Eleni created)

Demographics Wilkinsburg - People-01

The city has changed drastically due to its history. The massive drop in the population and available jobs has changed the area into one that is no longer upper middle class. And due to this drop in population the are is now as dense as a rural community. It was the crash steel mill that actually caused people to lose their jobs and move from Wilkinsberg. It is amazing to me that the problem of vacant buildings and blight are so linked to the economics of the area, and the steel industry. And I think this is evidence that looking at the past can inform the cause of our problems.

The Willingness and Ability to Move Forward

The question to ask yourself, when trying to make an impact, is does your audience have the willingness and ability to adopt a behavior change. Habits sometime are hard to break and if you layer on other factors –such as income-levels, generational poverty, lack of access, competing life objectives, and varying perceptions on what “good habits” are— there are further reshaping barriers. Within our audience there is an uncertainty in understanding the complete picture of what our audience is willing and able to do, to change their behaviors.

Matrix

To further expand on my previous point about understanding our audience’s complete picture, audiences are not stagnant they go through ebbs and flows, which indicates that willingness and ability is a fluid process. People do not fit into a simple category of able or willing—something realized while collecting data (quantitative and qualitative). Observational research has shed light on the fact that humans can have a high potential for inconsistencies in habits and behaviors.

Jen and Beth

The variance that comes with an audience has posed the biggest challenge and biggest point of fascination. On the challenge end, narrowing down on a specific kind of audience member was and still remains tough to do. People are not simply one thing at one time all the time; they go through shifts and have different dispositions at different points of the day around different things. Therefore, it was hard to say the audience is “X” and they solely do “Y.” On the fascinating end, learning so much about the different kinds of audience members that make up the under banked and unbanked population of Pittsburgh allowed for deep exploration of alternative solutions for human impact. Do we make a  game? Do we make a toolkit?

Group

From the wealth of knowledge we have gained from both the challenging and fascinating things about breaking through to shift the habits of the under banked and unbanked–potential negative and positive conditions  that can affect the future of the unbanked and underbanked are identified.  On a negative note some conditions are the systemic hurdles that audience members have to overcome such as cyclical unemployment, intergenerational poverty, and the communication gaps present in outreach. However, the growing support from community and banking partners, and the office  of the Mayor create conditions that can positively affect how these efforts evolve.

Shawneil

Leveraging Trends and Addressing Concerns

by Ronald Chang
Energy benchmarking invokes feelings of fear and hope for many. There are both trends and concerns that shape the way our team proceeded to formulating a solution to address the issue of energy disclosure.  On the positive end, these trends include greater internet participation, the popularity of gamification, more tools to analyze data, and greater concern for the environment and energy conservation. On the negative end, there are many fears around energy disclosure and on a more pervasive level, there is much apathy towards energy conservation. These trends and concerns affect individuals and organizations in different ways.
On the individual level, individuals that are concerned for the environment and do not have concerns for privacy regarding their energy usage information can participate by reporting their information on Portfolio Manager by using the information from their utility companies. Individuals would even be more inclined to report their energy usage if there is a social aspect to it and it allowed individuals to analyze their data. The social aspect allows for gamification since individuals can compete to see who can be the most energy efficient and can generate participation within a community of friends and neighbors. Individuals with access to their energy usage are able to track their own energy usage and manage their energy usage to strategically lower their overall energy consumption. This saves money for them and reduces their carbon footprint. Once communities are involved, participation can escalate where communities can compete to see which community is the most energy efficient.
Companies and corporate building owners may also choose to participate to appeal to tenants and customers that are looking for environmentally friendly and forward thinking business partners. They themselves may also look to lower their costs by making their building more valuable and/or reduce utilities and maintenance expenses in the long run. With significant participation on the commercial side, the local government plans to pass disclosure laws that require energy usage disclosure so that everyone can properly assess energy efficiency in Pittsburgh. The city of Pittsburgh seems to be at the verge of passing energy disclosure laws, like many U.S. cities across the nation.
On the flip side, there are many challenges and barriers that complicates the issue of energy benchmarking. For individuals, this ranges from apathy to privacy concerns. The price of energy is so low that for many, it is not worth the effort to conserve energy or participate in energy disclosure programs. For others, there in concerns over the privacy of their usage data, which may stem from an overall sense of paranoia regarding any data that is being generated today. With the recent revelations of government mass surveillance and commercial entities capitalizing on data, people are increasingly sensitive about disclosing any data. This prevents organizations looking to analyze this data for research and produce strategic solutions from accessing the information need. Due to the lack of property records in Pittsburgh, this is even more difficult. Commercial organizations may also be disinclined to report their energy usage, especially if they expect poor performance, because they are afraid of punitive measures by the government and by the market if it is discovered that they perform worse that their competitors.
To counter or at least circumnavigate some of these fears and concerns, our group opted to look for solutions that emphasize the benefits and possibilities.
  • First, with greater unilateral participation by individuals and organizations, the credibility of the perception that energy disclosure will harm them will lessen.
  • Second, once disclosure is mandated, there will greater transparency in energy usage and the city as a whole can cooperate in striving towards a greener and healthier city.
  • Finally, this pursuit of energy efficiency can potentially create greater economic activity in the short term since there will be more investments in new technology while ensuring environmental and economic sustainability in the future.

Blog Entry#3: Sumiya Tarannum, team 1

Journey to the heart beat of our problem-Research Revelations

After the mid-half of the semester we were successfully able to narrow down our focus to the Bhutanese immigrants as they were the largest population after the Hispanics & Mexicans and were exploring their history and reasons for migrating. In the course of this research we saw compelling evidence from different people that the biggest challenge they are facing is language barrier.

Initially, we taught immigrants were suffering more from the cultural integration problem and acceptance by the society, but as we delved deeper we realized that our target immigrants “Bhutanese immigrants” had the problem of having to simply navigate through the normal daily chores of life due to language barrier. With this concern, we started investigating on the most critical factor that defines a peaceful life. We realized that most of these immigrants had health issues due to depression and sometimes the language barrier ended up costing peoples’ life due to misinterpretations od doctor’s instruction during their visit to hospitals . We came across an article which clearly mentioned that people had issues in having a smooth consultation experience with the doctors and the post care and communication with the hospitals had communication in English. Our research confirmed that most of the people who have migrated are not very literate or fluent with the English language and the younger generation who forms a community support are either not always available or may not completely understand the meaning of technical terms used in healthcare context.

We researched on the possibility of using technology to come up with a solution. The possibility of using machine learning, translation apps and tools. However, this situation changed because after having an interview with the BACAP, a Bhutanese community group, we realized that many of these people cannot afford a smart phone and few elderly population is not very tech savvy. Hence, we eliminated the idea of using technology for our solution and decided to retract to some traditional methods. After an intensive brainstorming session with the team and professors, we decided to create flash cards for our Bhutanese immigrants in the form of artefacts which will provide them information on how to commute to a hospital form their destination and help them find a translator at the help desk of hospitals. The flash cards will entails pictures and cue cards for their memory, we will also provide a single card which will mention: “ I do not speak English and need a translator” and post consultation a card which says : “ “Doctor make a note to send me reports in Bhutanese language or provide me with a telephonic translation”. The other cards will entail information on Bus commute to the health center.

Policy Condition:

On the policy landscape, we explored the existing policy document of Affordable Obama Care Act and found that the law requires that the interpreters and translators be provided by the hospitals to their non-English speaking patients. However, the law nowhere emphasizes that the reports that are shared with patients to be translated in English and many hospitals take advantage of this loop hole in the law and exploit it. Besides that, the law enforcement has also been weak, only the rich and big hospitals have translation services and many small and medium size health centers are clueless about this policy.

However, this is expected to change though not in short term but long term that Obama is working towards providing more translators to the hospitals. In the meantime, we hope that this flash cards solution can work as a quick fix to go solution because the policy side change will take longer time.

Technology & Language Condition:

Currently, the technology is facing issues on being unable to translate all the technical terms of health care landscape beyond that the Bhutanese as language is not commonly used second language. We are hoping that the language scientist and technologist work towards this gap to enable cheaper and technology based solution.

Culture:

We also hope to see that the younger generation of Bhutanese immigrants end up catching up quickly on the American culture and language to become a strong community support network for their families and their immigrant communities.

Conclusion:

We intend to propose this solution to BACAP and other not for profits which works towards integrating Bhutanese immigrants into the Pittsburgh community. At the policy level, we will bring forward this concern to the Welcome Pittsburgh committee and request them to implement our solution while they are trying to make policy and community level changes to catch up on language gaps.