Monday, November 25, 2013

Urban Post-Disaster Interim Housing
I was in Brooklyn a few weeks back, which also happened to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. As I walked from my hotel to DUMBO, I engaged with a construction site infographic located at the corner of Red Cross Place and Cadman Plaza East, just North of Whitman Park.

What's going on here?
The site is a parking lot that measures about 40' x 100'. The construction fence was "wrapped" in that heavy-duty fence wrap that had large-scale texts and graphics printed on it.

What's going on here?
Content of the texts and graphics described the reason and process for building emergency Post-Disaster Interim Housing, a prototype of which was being built behind the fence.

"Fantastic!" I thought. The genius being not only the project itself but the communications around it.

Through the Prototype Program, the City is creating a multi-story, multi-family interim housing solution that will work in urban areas all across the country. Interim housing is post-disaster housing. It's used after emergency sheltering, and before those affected by a disaster can move into housing they can sustain without post-disaster aid.

What will it look like from the street?
Because of the City's high population density, lack of open space, and a mission to resettle as many residents as possible in their former neighborhoods (common issues for many cities), the Urban Post-Disaster Housing Prototype Program outlines a new plan for interim housing that will provide more suitable living spaces for people displaced by disaster than conventional interim housing solutions.

The information/communication had come out of the NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM). I've since learned that this particular site in Brooklyn was chosen because it presents many of the challenges for post-disaster housing deployment in urban areas and because it has many of the assets those displaced by disaster would need to re-establish a sense of community.

What will it look like?
I learned that this project was begun a good five years before Superstorm Sandy, the storm that ravaged New York and New Jersey coasts only a year ago on October 25, 2012.

This prototype program grew from a design competition in NYC announced in September 2007.

Back then, Mayor Bloomberg and OEM Commissioner Bruno, in partnership with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), Rockefeller Foundation, and Architecture for Humanity announced a competition to design urban housing for use after a disaster.

The competition was called, "What if New York City...Design Competition for Post-Disaster Provisional Housing". The competition challenged participants to propose innovative designs for temporary urban housing for use after a disasterasking competitors to temporarily house a displaced population in a hypothetical disaster scenario in a realistic but fictitious neighborhood.

How long can people live here?
Can it fit different family sizes?
What really drew me in were the super-scale renderings/graphics which not only communicated the pleasing, modern design of the prototype dwelling but important information about the thinking driving the process as well, accomplished in a thoughtful, visual way. Text content was clear and concise and addressed many questions and concerns that naturally arise as to systems, aesthetics, and functionality, and included a link to a city government website where one could go to learn more about the prototype.

What type of temporary housing
will work in the city?
I cannot overstate just how struck I was by the clarity and simplicity of this project's display. It's an amazing example of thoughtful communications to busy city-dwellers, the information which was evidently written with them in mind, and artfully displayed with them in mind, too.

Busy passers-by could get a quick take of the project or take in key questions and essential principles driving the project's process, if they chose to linger.

Why can't we use trailers in cities?
Keeping in mind lessons learned from past disasters, the project incorporates guiding principles the City intends to follow for the planning of interim housing, such as respect for the community, keeping people close to home, coordinating with a Citywide recovery strategy, and respecting the City's unique character.

What makes
a good location?
I was happy to have chanced upon this important project because it has immediate and transferable implications for cities, and is an excellent example of intelligent, urban, and visual, civic communications.

Questions posed on fence wrap:
What's going on here?
What will it look like?
What type of temporary housing will work in the city?
How long does it take?
What makes a good location?
How many people can it house?
How does it make a neighborhood?
Is it comfortable?
Can it fit different family sizes?
How long can people live here?
Will it help foster a community?
What will it look like from the street?
Why can't we use trailers in cities?

In 2012, the NYC OEM and the NYC Department of City Planning developed a case study guide, or “playbook,” for post-disaster site selection with design principles for keeping residents in the community and allowing them to live and work in their neighborhood (it's a PDF and downloadable). 

OEM and DDC, with support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program, are creating and testing the interim housing prototype based on a shipping container-style modular system.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Raise Up MA - Update!

RaiseUpMA advocates
at the Tuesday Farmer's
Market, Lexington
For the past two months I've been part of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition working to gather signatures across Massachusetts for a ballot initiative that would see two questions added to the statewide ballot next November (see previous Posts: Raise Up Massachusetts; PDM). These two important initiatives would index the minimum wage and require employers to provide earned sick time to their employees.

The coalition has been successful! We succeeded in our signature drive - - gathering more than a quarter-million signatures, far surpassing our most ambitious targets. And, PDM has substantially exceeded its own ambitious goals. I was one of many familiar faces at the Farmer's Market each Tuesday from mid-September through the end of October and at several Town events. I also made a personal commitment to knock doors in my precinct - and I'm pleased to say that I successfully gathered 500+ signatures for my efforts.

The impact of Raise Up's statewide campaign has led the state Senate's leadership to advance a minimum wage measure that would meet many of the campaign's goals.

I stand with PDM and statewide activists who await this initiative moving forward, in both legislative and electoral settings, to see these important progressive reforms put into law.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Will Congress Expand Early Education?

Earlier this year, President Obama proposed a new partnership with states that would provide universal, high-quality, full-day preschool for 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families. Last week, Secretary Arne Duncan joined members of Congress, business and military leaders, law enforcement officials, educators, and parents to voice support for a landmark early learning bill.

Introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), the Strong Start for America's Children Act would improve and expand high-quality early learning opportunities for children from birth to age five.

If signed into law, the new bill will accelerate the progress that states already are making to implement high-quality preschool programs and ensure that these programs are accessible to children who need them the most.

Early nurturing, nutrition, and stimulation increase a child's ability to learn and thrive over a lifetime. Read the Bill Summary of the Committee on Education & the Workforce and contact your Congressional Representative to voice your support.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Media Literacy Education

Advocates in support of the Media Literacy Bill (S.213) were in good company in Room A-1 of the State House on the morning of October 31st. Below is the testimony of Christina Brown on behalf of the Massachusetts PTA, followed by my testimony on behalf of the MASC Legislative Committee.

My name is Christina Brown; I am a parent, educator, and a proud member of the Massachusetts Parent TeacherAssociation, an affiliate of National PTA, the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association in the country, here to speak on behalf of the needs of families, parents, and children.  

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on the critical issue facing children in the 21st Century, media literacy. Right now there are children all over the Commonwealth who have in their hands, in their lockers, and in their backpacks devices that connect them to the greatest collection of marketing, images, information, videos, social media, and personal data collection tools in the history of our species. This portable collection of media grows exponentially every day and our digital natives naively assume that knowing how to manipulate the functions of these devices means they understand and can make wise decisions about the content that pours out in torrents. 

As a parent of a second-grader, I know my days of having control over the media that my child has access to are limited.  My ban on his using electronic devices that connect him to this collection of media could end any moment as there is no place a child can go where there are not smart phones and tablets. I know full well that this media is as valuable as it is his dangerous to his development and socialization. I also know there are marketers doing brain research at this moment to understand how to keep him engaged and on their screen. I know that he hears my voice in his head asking him to think critically, ask himself what is being sold to him, is this true, what is the evidence for the veracity of the claim that comes with deceptively attractive graphics and colors? But I know parents can't do this alone.

This bill asks that in addition to their families' voices, children in the Commonwealth also hear the voices of their well-trained and skilled teachers who are provided with resources to support the development of media literacy in our children. Teachers can join parents on the frontline and add to the knowledge and volume of critical questions children ask themselves as they use new technology and navigate our 21st Century world. In the same way MA teachers will for thirteen years support children's development as literate individual who are prepared for college and career as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners as detailed in the MA Frameworks, there is a desperate need for this comprehensive literacy instruction to fully include media literacy to support students in navigating a and increasingly complex media landscape.

The Mass PTA Position on Consumerism dedicates us to:
I. support efforts to protect children from exploitive marketing through advocacy, education, and collaboration; and
II. To support, expand, and improve efforts to inform parents on media and technology safety issues.

The Mass PTA Position on Technology in Schools dedicates us to:
I. Support, expand, and improve efforts that increase knowledge and skills for students to access, analyze, evaluate, navigate, and communicate a variety of media messages from the internet and other media sources.

The Mass PTA Position on Education of the Whole Child dedicates us to:
I. Support, expand and improve resources to ensure schools give every child access to a rich array of subjects and address children's basic emotional and physical needs.
II. Support, expand, and improve resources to ensure children are healthy, engaged, supported, challenged, and safe.

Media education is about making sure that students are prepared to think critically and ask the right questions throughout the 21st Century and into the 22nd Century. And it is essential, now more than ever that we give them skills they need for the lifetime that extends well-beyond their K-12 years. Thank you.

Christina Brown,
Massachusetts PTA
405 Waltham Street, #147
Lexington MA 02421

* * *
Honorable Co-Chairs, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the importance of Media Literacy in Education. I speak as a school committee member and member of the Massachusetts Association of School Committee’s Legislative Committee.

Members of locally elected school committees are very sensitive to public policy overload, education legislation, or any legislation that would mandate course curriculum content. At a meeting of the MASC Legislative Committee last Thursday night, members thoughtfully considered, then voted unanimously to support S.213 for the following reasons:
  • The Bill is not written as a mandate. Media literacy is pedagogy, a method of teaching, not a subject area. One can incorporate media literacy into any subject. So, it’s not an add-on, but rather a powerful way to teach a subject that is relevant and engaging to kids who live in a powerful 24/7 media environment.
  • The MTA endorses S.213 and has been on board as long as the Massachusetts PTA.
  • It’s a matter of equity. Some districts already recognize that media literacy is written into the Common Core State Standards and those districts are moving forward to integrate media analysis; students risk falling behind schools and districts that are doing a better job preparing their students for work and life.
  • This Bill calls upon the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to assist districts with implementing comprehensive media literacy education for the purpose of developing stronger critical analysis skills and independent thinking skills; these skills are in tune with curriculum frameworks aligned to Common Core State Standards and necessary for navigating our media-saturated world.

Today, literacy means media literacy. When you consider that nearly 6 trillion ads are displayed online each year[1], 400 million tweets are sent daily[2], and 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every day[3], it’s vital that students question and understand media’s commercial and political messages –– and to create their own messages and responses to 24/7 media. Thank you.

Mary Ann Stewart
Lexington MA 02420

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Public Hearing on Media Literacy Bill

State House, Boston
I spent the better part of Halloween morning at the Massachusetts State House, specifically in Hearing Room A-1, for a Public Hearing convened by the Joint Committee on Education. The hearing was dedicated to proposed bills on curriculum in K-12 public schools, that included teaching of genocide, Civics education, and more. It was standing room only. Seats were filled and walls lined with staff, press, teachers, students, and advocates in attendance to hear testimony in support of a range of bills that would impact K-12 curriculum in public schools. I was there to testify in support of the Media Literacy Bill (S.213/H.472) on behalf of the MASC Legislative Committee.

Advocates speak in support
of S.213 before the Joint
Committee on Education

Room A-1
Bill S.213 is unique in that it is not written as a mandate for teachers or districts to teach a particular subject. Rather, Media Literacy is a methodology, a pedagogy, a way of teaching that incorporates strategies for critical analysis in a way that is relevant and engaging to kids. Teachers recognize the need for media literacy - they see the very real effects of too much media, unhealthy media, and lack of critical analysis. Many teachers are using media literacy across many content areas already and the Massachusetts Teacher's Association endorses this bill; they have been on board as long as the Massachusetts PTA. Some school systems recognize that media literacy is written into the Common Core standards and those districts are moving forward to incorporate it throughout all content areas. Those who are not risk falling behind the schools that are doing a better job preparing their students for work and life in the 21st century.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Literacy Today = Media Literacy

Lexington's community forum about the positive and negative impact of media on societal behavior and the development of children got me thinking about our current media landscape and what individuals, families, and communities can do to improve positive outcomes. The forum was held on October 10th at Lexington High School and was co-sponsored by the School Committee, League of Women Voters, and numerous Town and School Department groups, and individuals.

The impact of media on children is always a topic of concern and today's media landscape has dramatically changed over the last decade; all of us are now living in a world of 24/7 media saturation. One startling finding of a Kaiser Family Foundation survey (2010) showed that young people are devoting more than 7.5 hours each day with entertainment media - an increase of 1 hour and 17 minutes since 2004. The survey also found that:
"...because they spend so much of that time 'media multi-tasking' (using more than one device/medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those 7..."
Schools and individual teachers are working to bring media literacy to students, but media literacy is not broadly implemented in our public schools and media literacy is rarely part of the public debate on education. A bill in the Massachusetts State Legislature (S.213) proposes to change that.

S.213/H.472 (language is identical in both bills) would bring media literacy education to all Massachusetts K-12 public school classrooms. Media literacy education teaches students to apply critical thinking to messaging and to use media to create their own messages. It's a methodology, a pedagogy, a strategy and key skill that's vital to the health and well-being of all children, as well as to their participation in the civic and economic life of our democracy.

The irony is that, used well, media can entertain and inform our children in positive ways. However, since most children are not taught to use media thoughtfully, they are not able to think critically about it's content. Research shows that media literacy education has been effective in reducing risky behaviors among children and youth of all ages and for all topics of focus, such as tobacco use, violence, and sex.

Media Literacy Now, a 501(c)4 non-profit organization focusing on grassroots and legislative media literacy activity for K-12 schools in each state, has formed a coalition in support of S.213. Public testimony is being planned to present to the Joint Committee on Education's public hearing on Thursday, October 31, 2013. If you are interested in being in touch with parents, teachers, and others working for media literacy education in our schools, visit their website, where you can learn more about media literacy and sign up to join their mailing list. Watch on this site, too, for updates to this issue.

Panel members, Anthony Brooks, moderator
Tom Fiedler, Dean, College of Communication, Boston University
Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D. Professor Emerita, Lesley University
Michael Rich, MD, MPH, Director and Founder of the Center on Media and