urbanter

Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Monthly Archives: June 2015

Center for Urban Pedagogy – Week 2

This week was a sort of calm before I dive into my main project for the summer, the Bronx Urban Investigation. It is set to launch on July 6th, so last week was a lull in activity while previous programs wrapped up. I got to do some design work this week, which is always really fun. Also, Deland, our fellowship coordinator, came to the CUP office for a visit this week! Thanks so much for taking time out of your trip to come and see what we’re up to, Deland.

Deland, Sandy, and I at the CUP office!

Deland, Sandy, and I at the CUP office!

I spent most of this week supporting Jenn, our Youth Ed program assistant, on the currently active City Studies. City Studies are another program under the Youth Education umbrella of CUP; they’re usually based in classrooms and focus on simplifying and making a dense classroom topic more accessible. The art deliverable produced at the end of the program then lives on and the teacher can use it to help future classes understand the topic. They involve less contact hours with students than Urban Investigations and are generally a little less in-depth because of that.

The City Study I was helping with was a partnership with the Bronx Museum. They are doing a three-part series on asthma in the Bronx. In the South Bronx, 17.3 out of 1000 people are hospitalized for asthma every year, which is about 8x the national average. The rate of incidence for asthma in children is 8.3% which is double the national average. These rates of asthma stem from two main issues: the concentration of trucking and a lack of enforcement for landlords to uphold humane, healthy living conditions for their tenants. In many old homes in the Bronx, there is mold, peeling paint, pesticides, and other chemicals that can severely exacerbate asthma symptoms and lead to hospitalization, and in some cases, death due to asthma attack. Most people don’t know that these issues in their homes are connected to asthma.

A visualization of community survey responses, conducted and created by the teens of the Bronx Museum program.

As an activist, I am constantly striving to understand more deeply the impact of injustice, to better be able to advocate for solutions that will actually make a difference. I came into my internship at CUP after a really hard year at Stanford, politically speaking. I left the year feeling loaded down by really heavy, toxic rhetoric with no idea of how to move toward solutions. I forgot what it was like to do work that was positive, purposeful, and driven towards change.

At CUP, I’m beginning to find my way back to that path. It’s been rejuvenating for my spirit as both an educator and activist to see the concrete ways in which education gives power back to disenfranchised people. When students learn about asthma with the Bronx museum, they go home and can find the triggers in their own home and tell their friends. That knowledge could quite literally decrease the number of hospitalizations due to asthma in their circle – and the best part is that the knowledge never expires. It’s sustainable and naturally reproduces. It’s justice in a very real way.

CUP's Who We Are Collage

CUP’s Who We Are Collage. Try to find me! 🙂

To close: this week, I added myself into CUP’s Who We Are collage. At the end of week 2, I’m feeling so honored to be in the silly, off-beat company of so many truly gifted artists, educators, and designers who are teaching me every day what justice looks like, both literally and figuratively.

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Bamboo Biking – Week 2

A quick snapshot of this second week at BBB: Our next door neighbors moved out! So we have snagged this room and suddenly have so much more space. As recompense for refurbishing the room, it’s possible that I’ll end up living inside of the workshop itself, as my current housing will expire soon. That would be cool. In other news, we just hired three local high school interns, and I’ve been building my new bike at Workshop 33, designing a catalog for BBB, starting to make a visual workflow/how-to guide for the workshops, and drilling holes around the new room in preparation for some interior designing.

Workshop 34

Workshop 34, with new interns and old-time volunteers (all high-schoolers!)

Neighboring room in transition. Check back in a week or two to see its hopeful transformation!

Neighboring room in transition. Check back in a week or two to see its hopeful transformation!

Ever since I started borrowing someone else’s bamboo bike last week, I’ve been learning a lot more about transportation cultures and mobility in Beijing by spending 2-3 hours on the street commuting every day. At first glance, urban biking in Beijing can seem pretty chaotic and formidable. It is chaotic — when the streets are full, especially, you can look around and see cars in the bike lane, cars parked on the sidewalk, bikers and mopeds going the “wrong” way down multiple lanes, bikes and even pedestrians in the middle lanes of major roads, and a predictable disregard for certain traffic signals.

Despite the visual mess, it’s actually very calm within the fray, because everyone is paying close attention to everyone else. When I bike down the street, I am always planning my path for the next 20 meters, and rely on everyone else around me to be doing the same, so that we can anticipate and adapt to each other’s routes. There are often status transactions going on. For example, if a single bike is going against a single car when the bike has the right of way, the car will definitely cut off the bike illegally. But if a group of twenty bikers during the morning commute decides to cut a car off when the car has the right of way, you better believe they’ll do it. For a sense of scale, here is a picture of what almost every intersection looks like outside of the central city. That’s usually enough room for 6-8 lanes of cars on a road and two bike lanes. In this moment the intersection looks like a parking lot, but when transit goes on in the middle, it becomes a huge slow jumble through which people move like a school of fish, to borrow the words of Wang Wenlan, a photographer who has published famous series of photos of China’s bicycle scene.

Typical intersection in the outer rings of Beijing

Typical intersection in the outer rings of Beijing

Shanghai, 1991 © Wang Wenlan

Shanghai, 1991 © Wang Wenlan

More of Wang Wenlan’s amazing bike photography can be found here. Until next week!

Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP): Week 1

Hello from Brooklyn!

My name is Jazlyn & I’m spending my summer at the Center for Urban Pedagogy. You can learn more about me and my organization here! I’ve been here for about a week and it has been quite the wild ride so far. New York City is no joke, and I am slowly developing the quad muscles to prove it.

I have done and learned an incredible amount in the four days that I’ve spent at CUP. I want to share with you all some of the main takeaways that I’ve been mulling over this week.

1) The Power of (Un)Education

The project that I’ll be working on this summer is part of CUP’s Youth Education arm. The programs are called Urban Investigations and the one that CUP is hosting in the summer will be a collaboration between 5 high schools in the Bronx. Urban Investigations are project-based curricula – check out the process in the infographic below.

UI infographic
How Urban Investigations Work

Our big question for the Bronx UI is, “Why do subways cost what they do? Who decides?” As an Urban Studies major, I heard the topic and I was like, great! Transit! We constantly learn about transit and how it works – I thought I would have a lot to contribute.

However, as I began to do my background reading, and as I began to live in New York, I came to realize how absolutely wrong that was. The New York Subway System is a behemoth of its own, and no amount of knowledge about any other transit system could have prepared me to know the intense amount of politics, money, and social dynamics that go into shaping and maintaining the subway. For instance, did you know that people who ride the subway are colloquially called straphangers? I read an entire article thinking that straphangers was some sort of derogatory term before I asked someone in the office to explain it to me.

As I dove into that research, I was so enraptured by the richness of the topic and complexity of the answer. I began to remember how amazing it is not to know stuff, both as a person and an educator. I expressed this to our director of Youth Ed, Christy, and she said, “That’s the great thing about Urban Investigations. When we pick a topic, we usually don’t know all that much about it, so we’re learning with the students as they investigate.”

For the students, that is such a powerful thing. They will have educators that are relying on them to provide essential components to the project. Without them, we wouldn’t have the answer to our question. That truly, there is no right answer – what they find is our collective truth.

2) Reciprocity

That last note feeds into my next point, which is cultivating reciprocity in service. Reciprocity is a bit of a buzzword in service – it’s something that sounds good and is actually essential to effective service, but in practice is incredibly hard to carry out in a meaningful way. Out of the 3 quarter-long service experiences that I have had in the past year, I don’t know if I successfully implemented it in any of those projects. It was a pretty elusive concept.

That is, until I arrived at CUP. I have seen this in two ways since arriving. On one side, is the reciprocity embedded in their own programming. The UI projects have an incredible amount of reciprocity between the students and their teachers, because they are co-creating knowledge. As I elaborated on above, CUP educators are not experts in every topic that they propose. In fact, a lot of the projects are specific to students’ community context and so often, students have a lot more experiential knowledge about topics than their teachers.

In my personal context, I had an incredible meeting with Christy about what my experience this summer is going to look like. She showed so much care and depth of thought about how my priorities could intersect with needs at CUP, and particularly, the needs that they will have on-site at the Bronx. For instance, one of my priorities is to get hands-on experience with the UI because I will be developing a similar curriculum later for my Urban Studies capstone project this summer. We talked about where my project intersects with Urban Investigations, and what days would be mutually beneficial for me to be on-site. For example, I will be on-site when the students conduct interviews on the street. I will get to see how to teach interview basics and see the activity in action – and I also need to be there to supervise a group so that we can split up. Reciprocity!

That’s it for now – what an amazing week to start off this summer of advocacy, justice, and growth!

Bamboo Bicycles Beijing: Week 1

Hello, I’m Geena!

I have been in Beijing, China for a little over a week now, working in the depths of an old hutong neighborhood in the little gem of a workshop called Bamboo Bicycles Beijing. (See here for a bio and description of BBB!) Most of my first days were something like an orientation, to get my hands working on the bike projects going on in order to get a feel for how the workshop operates. In this first post I’ll share some of the ways my understanding of the workshop has deepened through participating in it.

A typical view of the workshop in action: lots of peer-to-peer teaching and learning!

A typical view of the workshop in action: lots of peer-to-peer teaching and learning!

Sitting outside the workshop mitering one of the frames built at the 32nd BBB workshop, held last weekend.

Sitting outside the workshop mitering one of the frames built at the 32nd BBB workshop this last weekend.

There are three aspects of the workshop that are really sticking with me as I end my first week at BBB:

1) Intentionality of scale: BBB has existed for about a year now and hosted 33 workshops, which have produced just shy of 150 completed bamboo bicycles and their proud owners. Though the “reach” could certainly be considered small in a city of over eleven million, the workshop gathers a self-selecting, extremely passionate bunch who end up taking ownership of the workshop in their own way and often volunteer many hours over many weekends to pass on the skills they have learned to others who are just learning how to make their own bikes. In the last week, I was in the space for three or four media outlets who interviewed and videotaped David, BBB’s founder. I heard him reflect often on his disappointment with some of the outlets’ offers to help expand BBB’s brand and image by spinning their stories on him a certain way. “That’s not what we’re about,” David would often say to any story that did not allow for the character of BBB to stand for itself. It feels very special to work alongside someone who has total conviction for what he is and is not about. So what is BBB about, then? For one thing, the small scale of the workshops allows for the cultivation of genuine loyalty and trust in its participants. Other things:

2) Community! A lot of people talk about community. It was a catchphrase I read all over the BBB website and in interviews with David before arriving. However, being on the ground in the BBB neighborhood brought a whole new understanding to the word in the ways it is used to frame BBB’s objectives. The physical space of BBB is open to any passersby for the whole workday. Curious first-time onlookers are welcomed in, and so are the young neighborhood kids who live down the street and sometimes man their parents’ convenience store. In fact, those kids have built their own bamboo bike in the space, and one of them returned to help me build mine on Friday. David’s elderly neighbors also look out for him. One day a long-time resident was just about poised to kick me out of the shared BBB courtyard with her cane, until she realized I was with David and Claudio (another workshop leader) and burst into a forgiving smile, even insisting that I come sit in her home with her. Another neighbor leaves his door open and continually offers food. On one of my first days there he shared with us a homemade lunch over hours of conversation, pictured below. Because of the care that David takes to be a positive, active contributor to the neighborhood in which he’s set up shop, BBB’s participants find themselves cared-for by the existing community. This also strikes me as very special, perhaps guided in large part by a respect for communicating in the language of the community and a general thoughtfulness.

Lunch with our generous neighbor ShuShu. Pictured is a traditional Beijing dish 炸酱面 translated as "fried sauce noodles," complete with beer in bowls!

Lunch with our generous neighbor ShuShu. Pictured is a traditional Beijing dish 炸酱面, translated as “fried sauce noodles,” complete with beer in bowls!

3) Empowerment: I’ve worked as a mechanic in different bike shops in high school and college. In most bike shops in the U.S. at least, the norm is for amateur mechanics to start off learning to change flats, then do basic assemblies, then the more advanced aspects of assemblies, and finally the varied challenges of repairs. As an amateur mechanic, I was accustomed in past summers to learn two or three tasks and repeat them the entire summer, as the business models of most bike shops are most efficient if mechanics work assembly-line style. BBB has been different from the get-go because of the peer-to-peer teaching and learning that happens around the clock. It is everyone’s intention there to equip longtime workers there to deal with the entire process of building a bike, from selecting the raw material to calibrating the very last component. In fact, anyone who walks through the door can be put to work immediately by whoever has the capacity to teach. The teaching style is very couched in doing: someone will typically explain a process to me, then hand the tools over to me to do myself. This is so wonderful! Especially as a woman engineering student who has had a fair share of tools taken straight out of my hands to get the job done for me “better” or “faster.”

David has continually said that the beauty of BBB is that every new person who joins the team changes the organization in some way because of the new ideas and projects they bring — through planning bike rides and picnics, hosting photo competitions, making new arts and crafts, starting a video series, or taking ownership of BBB’s social media presence. Because the entire workshop was executed on one person’s own initiative, the norm for how things get done is that individuals must implement their visions on their own volition, all the time. This is just one more way BBB lives up to its mission to empower those who spend time there.

Well, I’m halfway through the 2-day workshop to build my own bamboo bike now, so by next week hopefully I will have something to show for it! I will also be moving away from doing bike mechanics and into doing some different projects. Thank you for reading!