Thursday, March 15, 2012

Building on Community Strengths: Nature-Focused Education

Understanding and building on community strengths is a core value in our work. It’s why we work with local schools in building community resilience, and it’s why we are working to strengthen our schools by introducing nature-based education.

According to the Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, children today suffer from nature-deficit disorder. Instead of enjoying the Great Outdoors, these children stay inside, playing video games and updating their social media. He says that for many of this generation, nature is becoming more “abstraction than reality."

The schoolyard at Brown Street Academy used to be a slab
of asphalt, but as this rendering shows, the Center for
Resilient Cities has transformed it into a positive
environment for outdoor education. Partners on the
project include Milwaukee Public Schools, the Rotary
Club of Milwaukee and the Lindsay Heights community.

But if we reconnect children with nature, powerful change will happen. Louv says environment and nature-based programs have improved attendance, behavior and standardized scores in schools across the world. Two major studies in Canada showed that school grounds with diverse natural settings promote physical activity, nutrition awareness, civility among the students and creativity.

At the Center for Resilient Cities, we have worked to bring nature and education together at Brown Street Academy, an elementary school in Milwaukee. During the summer of 2010, we transformed one-half acre of concrete into a vibrant haven for outdoor education. In this Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom, children create visual masterpieces in a nature art area, build with natural materials, climb on natural structures and practice their balance, agility and creativity in areas designed for music and movement. There will also be a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom at our Resilience Research Center.

Another organization doing powerful work with nature and sustainable education is the Center for Ecoliteracy. The nonprofit believes that “the best hope for learning to live sustainably lies in schooling that returns to the real basics”: students engaging with nature, appreciating how nature sustains life and understanding the consequences of how we feed ourselves. Working with local partners in 200 cities on six continents, the nonprofit works with school gardens, school lunches and helping educators integrate sustainability into school curricula.

The Center for Ecoliteracy’s website provides a wider concept of sustainability – one which goes beyond environmental sustainability. It’s one we believe has ties to resilience:
"Sustainability as understood by the Center for Ecoliteracy is a far richer concept than simply meeting material needs, surviving, or trying to keep a degraded planet from getting worse.  A truly sustainable community is alive – fresh, vital, evolving, diverse, dynamic. It supports the health and quality of life of present and future generations while living within the limits of its social and natural systems. It recognizes the need for justice, and for physical, emotional, intellectual, cultural, and spiritual sustenance."
A focus of community commitment, the local school is a key community strength. Neighbors of the Resilience Research Center tell us: “We cannot grow as a community unless our children grow.” “Schools are not just in the neighborhood, they are of the neighborhood.” “Schools are where kids get to know their community. They get to know the possibilities.”

Do you believe nature-focused education is important to grow our children in a resilient community? And moving beyond youth, how do we engage the entire community in resilience learning and practice?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Join us next week!

We're taking a one-week break, but join us again March 15 as we discuss all things resilience.

In the meantime, enjoy this photo from Alice's Garden last fall and start dreaming about your own gardening!

Venice Williams, Alice's Garden Program Director, talks with elementary students in the Junior Master Gardeners program. This hands-on, outdoor gardening program seeks to introduce young children to the art and science of gardening and help them to develop leadership and life skills. About 170 students became Junior Master Gardeners at Alice's Garden last year. (Photo Courtesy of Outpost Natural Foods Cooperative.)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Community Gardens: A Gateway to Building Resilience

Community gardens produce more than local and nutritious food. They also produce other resilience-building activities, such as community capacity building, civic engagement and mobilization for collective action on key issues.

Three gardeners start work at Troy Gardens on opening day
in 2010.
Photo courtesy of Community GroundWorks.
Troy Gardens, in Madison, WI, is an award-winning 31-acre mixed-use development in Madison, WI, that supports community building as well as food production. Saved from development in 1996 by a coalition of community residents, nonprofit organizations (including the Center for Resilient Cities) and university partners, the project was grounded, quite literally, in the work of community gardeners who organized to save a critical community asset. Community GroundWorks, the now 10-year-old organization that resulted from this collective action, manages the 26 acres of agricultural land and open space on site. Here, people of all ages can grow their own food, receive organic produce from a five-acre community-supported agriculture farm and develop skills in food preparation and preservation.

Troy Gardens is not just about food. The site also includes natural areas where community residents, high school and university students and the public at large restore and manage woodlands and prairie. Through hands-on learning, field trips and educational programs such as Urban Forestry 101, offered by Community GroundWorks, youth and adults foster biological diversity in their own community – and in some cases, right by their front doors!

Gardeners and friends gather together at Alice's Garden in October 2010.
In Milwaukee, Alice’s Garden is a two-acre community garden located just minutes from downtown, in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood. Here, more than 110 families representing various ethnic groups grow organic produce. But activities at Alice’s Garden extend beyond food production to promoting healthy lifestyles, building social networks and working toward racial healing. Events range from “Guys, Grills and Gardens” to biodynamic gardening to celebrations of African-American history and culture. Programming also includes reading circles, science and art lessons in the garden, chess and checkers, yoga for all ages, and cooking, nutrition and parenting classes. In the summer of 2010, the community designed and constructed a labyrinth for walking meditation, contemplation and enlightenment.

Community gardens, an important locus of food production, are a cornerstone of a resilient community. And, as Troy Gardens and Alice’s Garden demonstrate, they are also a portal to additional activities that enhance resilience. 

As long-time Troy Community Gardener John Bell once said, they are “democratic free spaces,” where trust-building and development of collective interests take place through day-to-day interactions and conversations of a diverse group of people. (For information on free spaces, read this book.) Michael Bell, Director of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has termed these conversations as “dialogues of sentiment” and “dialogues of solidarities.” We’ll explore these two concepts in a future post, as we look at how food system transformation builds resilience.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Diversity: A Community Perspective

Students of Badger Rock Middle School break ground for
the Resilience Research Center, which will house the school
starting this summer. Eighty percent of students come from
the surrounding neighborhoods. Residents of that community
say their children mix easily with children of different cultures.
The adults don’t mix as readily, and residents said focusing
on commonalities – not just differences – may help
connect the community. (Photo by Daniel Norlindh)
The Center for Resilient Cities believes diversity – defined as a variability of biology, landscape, economy and social organization is fundamental to resilience. Looking at the social side of diversity, we went into the community to find out how they interpret diversity and what value they believe it has.
We talked with community residents who will have a stake in the Resilience Research Center on Madison’s southwest side. They talked about diversity as it applies to housing, employment, natural resources, ethnicity, age, race, socio-economic status, sexual preference, local business and educational opportunity.
One resident connected diversity to community growth: “It brings more options, more light, more possibilities. … It affirms the things I know and tells me what I don’t know. It’s life-affirming.”
But, one resident made this comment: “Diversity is not a strength in itself. You need to make use of it. Now, it is something we have on the shelf; we don’t use it.” When I mentioned this comment in conversation with other residents, many agreed. “My children mix easily with children of different backgrounds, but there is much less mixing among adults.”
Residents also talked about challenges diversity brings. They described the community as “socially splintered” and “spatially fractured,” because the community is divided spatially and socially by income, age and ethnicity. They talked about the lack of interaction between people living in the rental properties and homeowners, between seniors living in senior housing and youth, between low- and middle-income residents, between African-American and Hispanic residents.
Community residents saw this as a problem. They want to know other people and what they value, their interests and whether they plan to stay in the community. They want to know about commonalities – not just differences. Then they would feel more connected rather than divided.
So how do we bridge these divisions and make connections? Many agreed with one resident’s suggestion: “We need to know other people’s histories, experiences and aspirations.”
As a practitioner, how is diversity expressed in your work? Which type of diversity is of most concern? Do you have other suggestions for bridging the divisions and building connections?
Next week, we get down on the ground. Instead of talking about resilience, we see it in action. I’ll be looking at community gardens where much more than growing food is taking place.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Communicating Resilience: Words, Pictures, Voices

We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the words around resilience; now let’s talk about incorporating images. Pictures are powerful tools that could help engage a wider audience in resilience learning and practice.
A picture from The Lexicon of Sustainability
that features one of our partners: Growing Power.

On the Lexicon of Sustainability website words become the building blocks of new sustainable solutions – words such as: back yard pollinators, urban farms, methane digesters, pasture-raised, vermiculture, biodiversity and carbon footprint. These words express choices about how we live, but they’re also answers to specific questions. How is this produced? Where was this made? Who made it?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Understanding Resilience: "Thriving Beyond Sustainability"

Recently, Marcia Caton Campbell, Milwaukee Director of the Center for Resilient Cities, brought this book to our attention: Thriving Beyond Sustainability: Pathways to a Resilient Society, by Andrés R. Edwards. According to the author, what we find in the book is inspiration and catalytic ideas for social, economic and environmental change. The inspiration comes from stories of small and large initiatives undertaken by people, organizations and communities around the world. Rejuvenating, restoring and reinventing are key themes in moving toward a thriveable future.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What is Resilience?

With over 30 million hits on Google, it seems resilience has arrived. But the search continues for a definition of resilience that applies to its varied contexts and situations.

Recovery, bouncing back, re-grouping or coping come up as definitions of resilience. Yet, if significant social, economic or environmental change can transform a whole community, are such words adequate to explain resilience? Maybe resilience is more about shaping change, not just adapting to it.

One of our favorite definitions of resilience at the Center for Resilient Cities comes from the book Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change by Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley and Heather Boyer:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Introducing "Exploring Urban Resilience"

Welcome to our first blog! We are the volunteers and staff of the Center for Resilient Cities, a non-profit based in Wisconsin. Each week, we’ll write on resilience ideas, programs and projects from around the U.S. and the world.
But despite our experience as resilience practitioners, we know we don’t have all the answers. We hope to strengthen our knowledge base, as well as the knowledge base of the resilience community, through lively and informed discussion on this blog. Before we get too far, though, let’s introduce ourselves a bit more.