Monday, July 16, 2012

Recreating Problem-Solving Strategies

This morning we applied our new found knowledge of Mills Creek during a field trip to the local neighborhoods of that area.  After reading what Anne Spirn had accomplished with the middle school students and her Penn students, I was very interested to see how the city was doing now, 20 years after she started her work.  We took the SEPTA over to 40th street where Michael had us first walk down a block and back observing how the shops were set up.  When we gathered back together, we noted that many of the stores were selling knock-off brands, there were small tables selling miscellaneous items outside, and a bunch of the buildings had vacancies on the top floors.  This area was just beginning to get busy when we arrived, but as we moved on into the residential area, fewer people appeared to be outside.

By simply walking down one block, the landscape transitioned entirely from a commercial center to a residential area lined with decaying row houses.  While some buildings were occupied, many were either falling apart or abandoned.  Between some homes lay a vacant grass spot, representative of the common and expected degradation within Mills Creek.  Since the homes were built in rows and the walls connecting them were made of weak material, a regular result of one house crumbling is the natural decay of the entire block within the next 30 years or so.  We witnessed how blocks that were full of occupied homes, have now turned into large grassy landscapes, some of which have been redeveloped.  The dangerous thing about letting these homes rot until they simply crash in, is that the ground is less stable, and therefore less able to provide a long life for the next set of housing set on top of it.  Also, there are many community gardens that have been built on old housing blocks that require mainly its children occupants to take careful safety measures as to not acquire led poisoning from the old paint which now lies within the soil.

Another scary aspect of the redevelopment is one that I read in Anne's article involving the old creek bed.  She and the students discovered that a creek bed used to occupy much of the space that is now covered by playgrounds, fields, and other buildings.  Rather than creating these sites on solid, stable land, developers disregarded the fact that the creek bed was polluted with sewage and storm waste, and they made the decision to just lay on some cement and build a playground.  Unfortunately, many of these areas have caved in multiple times and have a high risk of doing so again.  Even when these occur and people's lives are taken, new grounding is laid over and a new public space is built in place of the old.  It was crazy to walk around the neighborhood because I could actually see the sites that were built directly over the creek bed, as they were surrounded by downward slopes.  I think it is incredibly ridiculous to see these cover ups as solutions to any sort of long-term problems within this area, for the residents lives are only being put at greater risks with each new redevelopment program.

Mills Creek carries a rough history of these environmental issues and I think the best solution to these problems is to continue on doing work in the middle schools to get the youth inspired to make a change in their community.  This area has undergone an extreme amount of stress over the centuries, so it is important that the people who are in charge of creating long-term solutions in that community are familiar with the history behind the contemporary problems.  I believe that this idea is something that needs to be recognized by all communities, because with it, I feel that long-lasting change would arise.

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