Friday, 30 September 2011

A visit from the Commissioner of Health

In week 4, the commissioner of health, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, paid us a visit to discuss the city's latest initiative, and our next project, "Healthy Baltimore 2015." Healthy Baltimore 2015 (HB2015) distills and targets health priorities in Baltimore and focuses on 10 priority areas that account for the greatest possible preventable disease, disability and death:
  1. Promote Access to Quality Health Care for All 
  2. Be Tobacco Free 
  3. Redesign Communities to Prevent Obesity
  4. Promote Heart Health 
  5. Stop the Spread of HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Infections 
  6. Recognise and Treat Mental Health Needs
  7. Reduce Drug Use and Alcohol Abuse
  8. Encourage Early Detection of Cancer 
  9. Promote Healthy Children and Adolescents 
  10. Create Health Promoting Neighbourhoods 
Dr. Oxiris outlined the challenges and opportunities of the programme and how we can contribute to the success of the project including communication, facilitation and integrations.The goal of HB2015 is to address these areas from three perspectives: policy development (health in all policies) to improve environmental, social and economic conditions affecting the health of Baltimore, promote prevention, and access to quality healthcare and maximise community engagement - informing, educating and engaging Baltimore residents to improve their health and the health of their communities.

Since we were already working on Bike Box, we decided to focus on #3: Redesign Communities to Prevent Obesity. Obesity is a huge issue in Baltimore and is linked to serious health conditions. For HB2015, redesigning communities means increasing physical activity levels and improving dietary patterns (including the consumption of more fresh fruits and vegetables) and providing more readily available access to fresh foods. With Bike Box, we want to hire the youth of the community to be the delivery people which will also increase physical activity, and since Bike Box is a grocery delivery system and produce cart, we're touching on access to healthy foods and bringing fresh fruits and vegetables closer - hoping to encourage grocers to open a store and serve the community.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Confessions of a Canadian studying in the US

The transition to the US must be the easiest, after all, Canada is America's little sister right? So what's been different in this place? Well for one, people are amused by my fascination with how 12-16oz coffee cups are considered "small", how the tax at the end of the bill never really surpasses $2.00 and why I am bitching about paying for medical insurance when "back home, this is free."

The US is ghetto - this is something I knew before, however, now that I am actually living in the ghetto, I can tell you, Canada really has no ghettos. The "ghettoest" place in Canada is sometimes considered a middle-class neighbourhood here. There is no balance between the rich and the poor here, it feels like Central and South America. Take a turn on the wrong block and grab your vest. Take another turn and make sure you don't get hit by one of those giant yuppie strollers.

Other observations? Here are a few from my short time here:
  • The word "caramel" is said strangely here. It's like "curmel", or maybe because I studied in French me pronouncing it "ca-ra-mel" is bizarre.
  • Pronouncing letters like "T" is forbidden and straight up weird. Baltimore becomes "Ballymore"
  • Flyer is written "flier"
  • Just like the Arab countries, spelling here is inconsistent, example: "Centre Street" and once or twice I saw "theatre" as opposed to "theater".
  • If you thought Service Canada was a mess, wait until you go to the social security office.
  • Accents are difficult to decode, example: "d'you stull wan' a sureal?" (do you still want the cereal).
  • I am collecting too many discount cards - it's like every chain has one. And the savings are legit. I saved a lot of money at Safeway and bought more than six things at a big chain pharmacy (Rite Aid) that added up to $25 (unlike Shoppers, where, if you buy two items, you've spent $23, no matter what you bought).
  • The term "going up to the cottage" or even just the word "cottage" is not used here. I was asked what I meant by several people.
  • I have to attend the orientation sessions with international students, yet every international student is curious to know why I sound like an American but am considered an international student.
  • You know that ring engineers wear on their pinky once they graduate in Canada? They should start implementing that here, there's been some very questionable engineers dealing with massive demolition projects (i.e can't answer basic questions or begin to comprehend the meaning of decontaminating soil).
  • Appetizers are totally meals here.
  • Everyday I feel like I'm living a Spike Lee movie. Or just an American movie.
  • Here, people aren't passive aggressive. Except maybe some. Students, mostly.
  • Spotify, Netflix, Pandora, Amazon Prime...I can't keep up with all these things that aren't available, or have limited availability, in Canada!
  • The word "curated" is too loosely used here. It bothers me. Maybe it's just an art school thing.

48-hour blitz

John Bielenberg
Ideas, ideas, ideas.
In Week 3 of the Fall 2011 semester, John Bielenberg from Project M spent a week with us - working and living in our space. John engaged us in a "48-hour Blitz". The goal of the Blitz was to create something memorable that benefits the East Baltimore community, then document it in a 48-second video. We were assigned the same group as for the 10x10x10 assignment the week before and quickly sat in the studio and brainstormed ideas. Mobile library? Library-café in the community garden of the church? Ideas, ideas, ideas.

I quickly looked through many articles that I had written for a few old clients and found several great ideas hidden in those blog posts that influenced my proposed idea. The day after we were assigned the blitz, the neighbourhood had a meeting in our space regarding the proposed demolition of the 8-acres of row homes directly near us, in order to make way for a new school. There were several serious issues discussed during this meeting, including potential health hazards such as dust, rodents and lead. We regrouped that night with John and thought maybe we could do something to raise awareness about what is happening in the area. We agreed this should be a group assignment as opposed to taking it on in teams of two. Then we discussed our ideas with our professors during our studio time in the morning. We realised we weren't thinking about this the right way and went back to brainstorming. We all proposed other ideas. Many of the ideas being thrown around, like a circus for example, were, in my opinion, elitist ideas that don't benefit the community but are what students want to see for themselves. I felt strongly about mine and teamed up with my colleague Julie who also thought the idea was viable.

Discussing the prototype with Mike and John B.
The idea:

By this point we had about 12 hours and went straight to work. I decided I should target the following problems facing the neighbourhood:
  • Lack of transportation in the area
  • The unemployment rate amongst males 16-40
  • Food desert
Julie's professor worked on a project offered by the health department called Baltimarket, an online and in-person grocery ordering system that delivers your groceries to the local library. Customers had a one hour window to pick them up and take them home. But what if you're still more than 2km away from the library? That's a long walk. Although I think Baltimarket is necessary and brilliant, it still didn't deliver groceries to people's homes. Furthermore, it didn't make fresh produce directly available to the immediate Middle-East Baltimore area (yep that's what the area is called!).

So, basing my idea on the Fruixi concept and the drug dealers who deliver on bicycles in Montreal, I came up with what is now called "Bike Box". Bike Box is a bicycle grocery delivery system that is available in-store (there is still a digital divide in this area) and online and delivers your groceries directly to your front door. It also functions as a cart that rides around the neighbourhood selling fresh produce to the residents from the nearby farmer's markets at reasonable prices. We sat down and wrote a proposal and decided that we would use recycled bike parts, hire the youth to ride the bicycles and teach them how to repair them to increase their skill set. We began working on a prototype. Luckily, we didn't have to have the finalised product, just a prototype that functions properly and document it (we already have an idea what we want the box to look like and the materials to use). Julie worked on this while I focused on creating a website, documenting the process, editing the video and the branding component.

Here's what we came up with:

Stenciling ain't a thing.
The logo. Adjustments likely to be made...eventually.
Thankfully, Bike Box is a necessary concept that works and something we can expand on further as we will be working on it with the Health Departments "Healthy Baltimore 2015" initiative where we are attempting to redesign communities to prevent obesity.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Storefront churches

East Baltimore has a lot of churches and numerous storefront churches, most of which are now closed and boarded up. One of the first assignments during grad school was called the 10x10x10. In groups of two, we had to go to 10 places, meet 10 people and collect 10 artifacts. My team targeted churches and what we noticed was an abundance of storefront churches. These churches had some of the best mottos and taglines ever and some great painted signs.