Day 4 – Unurban – Green Thoughts, Green Fingers GROUP 6

With the first week of the global citizenship program drawing to a close, I settled down comfortably on Friday morning into a front row pew in the wrong lecture theatre. Great start to the day. I daresay the failure to fill my morningly caffeine quota may have played some part in such an error, and I swiftly relocated to the correct venue. Logistical catastrophe behind me, I found myself sat facing the panelists for the day, representatives of the Chobham Manor Mobile Garden, the green fingered Joyce Veheary of  ‘Lend and Tend’ and Gary Grant, an impressive independent ecologist with a wealth of experience spanning 30 years of ecological survey and assessment.

Each panelist added new depth and colour to the approaches we might adopt in seeking to ‘green up’ urban spaces in ways that would evoke community unity, with Joyce taking the lead, expanding upon her ingenious Lend and Tend initiative. The Mobile Garden City representatives gave all onlookers a glimpse into an almost Utopian but 100% concrete and applicable inner city waste reduction and self sufficiency movement, and indeed this project stands as a shining example of what we can achieve across many different urban spaces with the appropriate attitudes and allocation of resources. My personal favourite was undoubtedly Mr. Grant, who I felt really honoured to have had a chance to hear speak, and to also talk with afterwards.

From his talk, you could really feel a sense of tried and tested experience in the field, and an inspiring – almost ruthless – determination to maximise the ecological integration of our inner city spaces. He seemed to laugh in the face of the exhaustive pessimism and doubt surrounding the importance of our pastoral role in environmental care and management. From simple green roof development to de-paving, to establishing insect hotels in even the most limited of available extra space, Gary held up a light to the possibilities open to us in transforming our otherwise uncompromising inner city environments into thriving, sustainable and bio-diverse spaces rich in atmosphere and vibrancy. On talking one on one with Mr. Grant a little later, he emphasised to me the importance of belief in the cause for environmental care, and that in order to achieve any meaningful and sustainable progress, residents of the inner city must be reconnected with nature, as only then will their interdependence with it become clear and valued. This theme resonated with the points of the other speakers, who demonstrated just as Gary did the myriad of approaches we might take. This useful advice on my mind, we pushed on with a quick task before shipping out to our breakout rooms for the day’s project work.

An insightful skill building session ensued, with group navigators walking us through the steps and nuances involved in conducting effective and concise research, imparting invaluable advice that we all readily absorbed like overly eager sponges. Although it was, to quote Will Churchill directly, “three o’clock on a Friday and we all want to go home”, the atmosphere in the room was much the same as the days before now.  A group of passionate, enthused students were handed concepts, as if wet clay between our hands, molding and melding,  poking and prodding, questioning and wondering, sitting back quietly to observe what it was we were forming from every and any angle possible. This sense of both tantalized expectancy charged with curiosity, and uncertainty of what exactly it is we’re all expecting seems to be the order of the day when it comes to the global citizenship program, and it is this sense of infinite possibility perhaps that makes me glum that the first week is already over. The opportunity to sit and exchange ideas with both new and familiar faces, and to extend branches widely across the disciplines in confronting current world challenges is truly what drew me to UCL in the first place. In a considerate, stimulating environment, almost bristling with untapped energy, we hash out answers to questions we long to answer, and for some of us, questions we have been asking ourselves in some way or other for quite some time. The very air seems to crackle, although how much of this is down to Tony’s endearing sense of humour is hard to say.

Although this next section may be somewhat subjective on my part, the opportunity to be exploring and questioning our responsibility in environmental care and to be inspecting the specifics, the fine print, of how effective change may be implemented is something for which I am truly grateful to be a part of.

However, I know I do not only speak for myself when I say that I’m  twitchy with anticipation and ready to throw all my energy into the week ahead. Maybe I will get to work on the challenge I voted for, maybe I wont. I must say, it really bears little significance to me now, because either way, the experience would be just as stimulating. Working alongside a friendly bunch of bright sparks and truly charming group navigators who are all just as keen to make meaningful efforts and try to make change for the better is reward enough, and with that cheese laden thought thrown out there, here’s to a fantastic first week and to an even better second week!

 

Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO SOPHIA!

Many thanks to our wonderful guest speakers, further information on their respective works can be found by following the links below:

Joyce Veheary – Lend and Tend: http://www.lendandtend.com/

Mobile Garden City: http://queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk/the-park/homes-and-living/chobham-manor/mobile-garden

Gary Grant: The Water Sensitive City, Ecosystem Services Come To Town: Greening Cities by Working with Nature

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Group 5&6: It’s identity.

As we did our reflection for today, I said something that apparently surprised Will. I thought of today to be ‘unexpected’.

I’ll be honest, I kind of dreaded today actually. On the previous day, we talked about the process of Discovery and Ideation and had loads of fun in thinking what could be and what we could make that would make our ‘persona’ happier in travelling in London.

Today was the Prototype Phase and I legitimately thought of all the possible things that were going to happen that would make today a really unproductive and well… bad experience.

From the first paragraph, you can well assume that I was misled.

Here are some of the prototypes that we made out of the short span of 1 hour:

 

And in the end, all of the ideas seem surprisingly feasible. But the most important thing, the prototypes felt that it could be very well be heavily used in society.

I think one of the advantages of using human-centred design is that you can actually see people using the products (which is essentially what we want in the first place!) instead of being just another product that is created for the sake of creation.

Okay, now you may be asking: How does this relate to identity?

Our decisions on how we use space, how we see space and how we live it in is all tied to the idea of identity.

One of the speakers, Judy (I’m so sorry but I’m really bad with names but she was super energetic for a 66-year-old) spoke something that resonated with me really well:

We love what we enjoy, we protect what we love

This sums up a lot of the things that was said from Day One up until now (at least that’s how I feel it). It explains what it means to be prosperous, it explains the actions that increases our wellbeing and it explains why it is important to use human-centred designs to develop ideas that improve wellbeing.

Your identity is tied to what you like doing or how comfortable you are in being the person that you are. It is based on what we view on ourselves and also (I think) our reactions on the views that were imposed on us.

How we choose to live is related with our identity which is essentially a social construct that determines really big issues in our life sometimes. It also determines on how we interact with the spaces whether to embrace it as our own or reject it as a threat to our livelihood. Ultimately, how we choose to live affects our wellbeing.

In short, I have made this little connection:

OUR IDENTITY → OUR LIFESTYLE → OUR WELLBEING

That’s one way of seeing it I guess. I could be wrong (I hope not) but so far this helped me in explaining the successes of policies, ideas and intervention. And I realised how important it is to have more interdisciplinary ventures especially in improving wellbeing and prosperity. I wouldn’t have thought of thinking like this stuck in the confines of my own paradigm.

I was brought up to think that having too many people in an issue complicates things and we get nothing done; as the saying goes “too many cooks spoil the broth”.  But that’s the wrong way of seeing it. Problems are complicated to begin with and every part of it should be a concern in the Discovery, Ideation and Prototyping process. Closing an ear or a view does not actually solve anything. The solution process begins by the act of coming together from different perspectives. The better or the best solutions don’t come easy although we would like that to be. But I would put in one requirement though for having conducive discussions:

– Everyone is orientated to achieve the common goal –

How fortunate it is for me to be surrounded by people who are as passionate if not more  in this programme. It matters not on whether we would fail or succeed, but the irony of setting that aside and attacking the problem in a creative and holistic way, more often than none, is actually bringing us closer to the solution that we dream of.  And that’s just simply mind-boggling for me! In the words of Emily Dickinson:

Madness is divinest sense

Again, I stand by with the word that describes my experience in the (Un)Urban strand; unexpected. In all the best possible ways.

(Un)Urban Day 2- Human Centred Design

To start the second day of the (Un)Urban challenge we had discussions centred around the themes of urban wellbeing and public health. This discussion was led by Oliver Dawkins (a PhD researcher from CASA) and Neil McElduff (part of the London Office of Clinical Commissioning Groups). Oliver Dawkins opened the discussion concerning issues about the current usage of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Neil brought very interesting insights to urban wellbeing through the ideas of integrative public health and seeing developments as communal rather than separated. These ideas allowed the group to look at the greater impact of community schemes, which we could link to the four ‘growth boroughs’, pointed out by the London Legacy Development Corporation. One of the main ideas that stemmed from Olivers talk was that locals needed to be engaged with the parks developments in order to view the park as ‘theirs’. To understand how the park was being used spatially, wifi was used to detect areas of high and low demand. However, this does not show who the people using the park are. Even though it remains popular, these occupiers of the park do not show a representation of how the surrounding boroughs use the park, but instead how it engages with tourists. This allowed us to move on to our first challenge of the day which was: How can a creative agency best utilise community networks in order to perform at its best?

After this discussion, we broke off into our smaller groups to try and tackle this question.  Creative Wick was at the centre of our challenge which is a creative regeneration agency, established in 2013. Our group came up with the idea of making art more accessible to the local communities, in order to allow them to engage with the park. We felt that this could be done through street art, allowing it to be much more inclusive but also through free exhibitions, reducing the attached ‘high culture’ associated with the arts. At these exhibitions there could be extras, which would attract many different demographics. For example, face painting, food and drink, and live art. Urban art could have greater funding to allow those who wish to engage with it to do so, rather than being pushed away by the unpredictability of the work. Expanding community networks through art could could allow Hackney Wick to perform very efficiently because art can be engaged with at all ages, genders and statuses, when made accessible.

After our lunch break, we then moved on to the concept of ‘human centred design’. First of all we were given the challenge of building the highest possible tower to hold a marshmallow for at least ten seconds. Initially seeming rather easy, 20 pieces of spaghetti, some sting and masking tape later, the task proved rather difficult. This task allowed us to understand the first stage of the design process, where divergent thinking is crucial. This exercise was probably the best part of the day, as it involved lots of teamwork and new ideas. The task showed us that no idea is stupid, but rather every idea is crucial in order to succeed. Unfortunately, 15 minutes was not long enough for my team to build a successful tower, as it collapsed as soon as it held a marshmallow. Never the less, we had fun.

Following on from this, we grew on the concept of human centred design through looking at the specifics and needs of individuals daily commutes. The emphasis of this task was to move towards desirability in the design process. In pairs we discussed our own personal commutes and what we like/dislike about them and why we do what we do. Everyone had very distinctive routes, which were personalised by our own desires. For example, many liked getting the tube in the morning rather than cycling because they don’t like early mornings! In our Groups we then came up with an imaginary person, with a very distinctive persona, ours was called Carla.

A little bit about Carla:

  • Lived in Finsbury Park
  • Had 9ams every morning
  • Was Claustrophobic
  • Lived next to the park
  • Late Sleeper

Here we could identify Carla’s commuting needs and then came up with solutions in order to meet her needs greater. We filled the wall with post-it-note ideas, ranging from: abolishing 9ams to double decker tubes to hovercrafts. Other groups had very bizarre and rather entertaining ideas, giving us a better understanding into divergent and then convergent thinking. By putting our solutions into long and medium term groupings but also spatial groupings, it demonstrated that the design process has many different cycles as it becomes more and more defined. Who knows, the double decker tube may make an appearance one day.

Overall, after sharing our thoughts and feelings of the day it was clear that the group had a lot of fun and really enjoyed being able to be more creative in a team setting.

Un(Urban) Day 2 – Human-Centered Design

Today is the second day of (Un)Urban: Investigating green spaces in East London. We had a great discussion in the morning with intriguing presentations from Mr. Neil NcElduff and Mr. Oliver Dawkins. I was pretty impressed by the data driven focus and insights of Mr. Dawkins who related his previous experience and projects in his Ph.D. program. The depth of his research was more than I expected and in some way I was convinced that we are indeed living in a world which is getting more and more digitized from the internet to the internet of things. While Mr. NcElduff is like a figure who has done so many different jobs. While he sounds like a businessman doing work centered around public sectors, I was amazed to hear that he was also once a basketball coach. Anyways Mr. NcElduff was really amazing.

After the morning session and lunch, we got into today’s lesson – Human-Centered Design. We went through several very interesting warm up games at the beginning. The class was broken down to groups of 3 or 4 people. The was one was counting one-two-three in loops with two students in a pair, each person counting a number at once. The second one was a little more complicated version of the first game, in which “two” is replaced by finger-snapping. The third one was a more complicated version of the second game, in which “three” is replaced by foot-stepping. It was a bit hard to complete successfully complete the task without any interruption. I figured it might be more comfortable to get along with the rhythm or pace by listening while closing eyes, instead of looking at each other.

We then moved on to a challenge where the groups are told to use 20 spaghettis and a certain length of tapes and a string to build something as high as possible to support a marshmallow for at least 10 seconds. The challenge was probably one of the best parts of today’s program. Our group managed to make a square based with 4 pieces of spaghetti chunks, which were broken up from one spaghetti. Upon the square base we made, we then used 4 spaghettis as 4 columns at the 4 corners and double the length of the 4 columns for attaching 4 other spaghettis at the end of the previous 4 spaghettis that were connected to the base. We then wrap the tips of 4 columns together and stick the marshmallow on it. It was quite successful and I thought we would win the challenge at the moment. However, another group came up with a similar structure theirs was more sturdy than ours at the end as ours started to bend a bit after a while and thus lost to the second place. It was a great team building and idea execution experience.

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Afterwards, we discussed about the problem of commuting in London in groups and then started another game. Each group fabricated a person with 3 needs. The person was featured by his or her age, gender, occupation, etc. The scope of imagination for this game was basically infinitely and each figured created by each group was quite interesting with unique stories. Many of the figures drawn of the posters were pretty funny. We were then told to post as many solutions to the needs fabricated and categorize them in different sections at the end. In summary, this hands-on game emboldened the theme of Human-Centered Design, which could be broken down to the sections of inspiration, ideation, and implementation, where the ideas went from divergent, convergent, to divergent, and back to convergent again. When asked at the end of the class, we pretty much all felt that today’s class was fun and that it was great to work as a team and learn by doing.

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