Sunday, July 15, 2012

Taking a Step Back

Today while people went on their Sunday adventures, I stayed in University City and decided to spend the day reading for my class.  At first I passed the time in my room reading one of the articles assigned, but around 2:00 PM I decided to go out to Cosi, a nearby cafe, and hang out there for the rest of the day.  

The theme this week in class is Justice, Gender, and Ecology so tomorrow we are going to Mills Creek, which is a neighborhood in West Philadelphia.  Some of the articles I read today dealt with the environmental history of this place as well as some of the past community projects that have been initiated in response to the difficulties the people of this area have faced.  One of the readings was written by Anne Spirn, who organized a collaborative environmental project with students from her class at Penn and middle school students from Mills Creek.  Together, the students from Penn and those from Mills Creek went out into the Mills Creek community and learned a great deal about the city's eventful history.  Since the 18th century, Mills Creeks has undergone several landscape changes and has experienced a number of developmental projects.  However, the problem with this area, Spirn says, is that the people in charge of reviving the degrading infrastructure of this city are always trying to cover up the ruins, instead of recognizing the problems and focusing on what resources they actually have to fix them.  She says that many of the architects and city officials put in charge of these projects are not environmentally literate.  In other words, they do not know the long history of the land they live on and do not care to find out.  Since the land there has undergone such radical change in the past 300 years, the solution to redevelopment must be undertaken by those who are knowledgeable about the serious environmental tolls this area experienced.  After doing thorough research on this area, Spirn decided to start up the West Philadelphia Landscape Project in 1996.  The work completed through this project was a productive collaboration between the middle school students and her own Penn students.  By the end of the year, the middle school students went from being ashamed of their hometown to telling Spirn that they plan on dedicating serious time into recreating their environment.  The Penn students learned a great deal from the middle school students throughout this process and began to think differently about their own communities and how they've treated the earth they live on.  Tomorrow we will be heading to Mills Creek to see  how the community has changed in the last 20 years since Anne started doing her work, as well as what change has remained the same.  

In the other readings, I learned a lot about New Orleans and more of the history behind Hurricane Katrina.  These books and articles discussed why the city should never have been built on the land it now occupies, why Hurricane Katrina had such devastating effects on the area, and how many concerns about a possible storm were ignored previous to Katrina.  The readings also discussed how history repeats itself and why we as humans have such a tendency to do this despite our past failures.  I am very interested to hear what Michael and Prof. Lamas have to say on this topic, and what my classmates think as well. 

It is so wonderful that we get to spend long periods of time focusing on areas like Mills Creek and New Orleans, because they represent such a larger picture of issues all over the United States.  The events within these two communities are just magnified situations of what occurs in numerous communities throughout this country, and that is something that many people do not realize.  I think it is extremely important to learn the history of these cities, as well as how they came to be and why they have experienced such dramatic changes over the years.  If only we spent more time in school learning about our own communities, I think that our local problems would be handled much better than they are now.  In the readings, I found that a common theme was that knowing the history behind your home is key to abolishing reoccurring issues. Whether they be environmental, social, or political, everything is connected, and that is something that needs to be taught within schools throughout America; because once this is idea is understood by the citizens of this country, I believe we will have the power to make true, lasting change in our society.

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