Although not particularly hands-on, today was definitely mentally active and engaging. Speakers Reiko, a history professor who teaches at Lewis & Clark College, and Lew, a former PDC manager came and talked to us about urban renewal and public space. Reiko’s presentation consisted of many images about public spaces and a more presentation about the ownership, importance, and surprising exclusivity of public spaces. Everyone including myself was in awe by the time she finished her enlightening speech. In reflection of her talk, many PLACE participants spoke of how she opened their eyes into ways they had never thought of being exclusive such as bum-proof benches, sky paths, and privately owned public space rules.
Retired PDC manager, Lew, also gave a very compelling speech about urban renewal. Many of his arguments were in opposition to Reiko’s earlier presentation. Lew took a more financial-minded perspective on urban renewal and how to create a better city which in my opinion is the unfortunate reality in today’s world. Today, everyone at PLACE gained new perspectives and ways of thinking on urban renewal and exclusion which opened our minds to become better citizens and be more aware of our surroundings.
Today was pretty incredible! We spent the whole day at Mercy Corps where we worked with Beth to work out some of the details of our project. We had the chance to walk around the center and figure out for our selves what Mercy Corps does and how they go about doing it. Then we got to dance and say our names which was just as cheesy as it sounds. We then got the chance to debrief what we had found out by walking around the center. After that we did this incredible activity where everyone was doing a role play of living a life without electricity and what that meant for each individual family.
Having done the camp at Mercy Corps last summer and the exact role play already, I was in charge of manning the water station. Then came the exciting part! Beth explained to us what she was looking for us to do in terms of this project. She explained the goals that Mercy Corps set, and the goals that she wanted us to achieve. After lunch we did a great workshop with Emily where she helped us to make connections between theater and our current systems.
“Systems are very chaotic,” explained Solomon after we did an activity that connected theater, conscious movement, and systems of power in a way that reflected many of the power structures we live under today. All of us gathered together in an intermingled, multi-grade level clump with Louis in the center as we moved based on how our “leader” guided us with their hands. Eventually, with more than 20 people attempting to both respond to the nonverbal commands issued by their leader and dish out their own, the structure collapsed. Everyone was so involved in their own space that they lost sight of the group as a whole. It’s easy to lose the forest for the trees, so to speak. As we debriefed on our activity and how it related to systems of power, my mind kept drifting to our earlier discussion with Beth, our presenter from Mercy Corps, concerning our project. After we learned about Mercy Corps and its goals, we finally started digging into the meat of our project with Beth. We learned that our central goal is to provide youth with the necessary tools to prepare them for disaster. Beth told us that we needed to identify where unawareness, apathy, or a potential myriad of other problems might exist among youth in regards to disaster awareness and resilience. During our discussions, a number of us asked Beth if she had identified where our project might lead in the short term. She explained that the results of our project would be largely based on two factors: the problems we could identify and the capacity for our tools to bolster the resilience of our communities in the face of disaster. Our specific assignment is unique, however, for the same reason that our activity was impactful: we need to engage youth—not all citizens, not adults, but youth—in Portland so that they may have a voice in discussions about disaster awareness, and so that they may have the power to sustain their communities in the wake of a disaster. In this sense, we have to tackle both the forest and the trees. We have to consider both the specific means to remedy the problems relating to youth disaster preparedness, and how we can use this project as a starting block to encourage greater youth involvement in our communities. That’s why our project in particular is amazing. We are not only thinking about the short-term benefits of our work with Mercy Corps, but we are also thinking about how to facilitate youth change making in Portland. That’s why PLACE is so awesome, and I’m extremely excited to see what we can accomplish as we delve further into our project.