Radio Perspective – Would he be able to hear what the earth is telling him?

Radio Perspective – Would he be able to hear what the earth is telling him?

My co-educator told me that less than 1% of all people in the U.S., with urban youth just a sliver of that, have had an outdoor educational experience, like the ones the organization we worked for provided. Studies show that with numerous experiences interacting with nature nurtures a love for it and thus, develops feelings of stewardship.

The students that came to our program in the Marin Headlands of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, an urban park just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, were always wide-eyed and bounding off the buses that dropped them off from urban and rural schools, from within and out of the state. They had been hearing in their classrooms and from their peers about coming to this “nature science school” all year.

I took a particular group of inner city students on a sunset hike to a view overlooking the Pacific Coast. I revealed that we were going to my “listening spot”, a place where I would go to listen to nature, but only under the condition that they wouldn’t talk. As we got to the top, I smiled to see silent mouths dropping in awe of the ocean and the open sky. I had them scan from left to right, taking a minute to try to notice as much as they could, the hill peaks, the flowers, the way the water flowed, so they wouldn’t forget what they saw. I had them close their eyes and list all that they heard. They stuck their tongues out to taste the salt in the air, and put their hands out to feel the wind. The whole time I wondered if any of them would get bored or distracted, but nothing ever indicated so.

Later, one boy came up to me. “Jo,” he said, “I wish I had a listening spot at home.” I repeated what I told the other students that he does, that he could go to a park or even a yard. “My parents don’t let me go outside,” he replied. “They say it’s dangerous.” His sudden change in demeanor brought a lump to my throat. We tried strategizing about ways how he could access one, both of us eventually concluding that he could experience nature by listening to the sounds of rain drops on the roof of his bedroom. He looked relieved and ran off to join his classmates, but I couldn’t help but wonder about when his next encounter with the outdoors would be and would it move him like this one did? That in the midst of his urban home, would he be able to hear what the earth is telling him?

With a Perspective, I’m Joanne Wong.

Radio Perspective – In a developing metropolis, where do Rio’s kids play?

Radio Perspective – In a developing metropolis, where do Rio’s kids play?

Last summer I spent two months living in Rio de Janeiro. Amongst the midst of violent political protests, unlawful evictions, and rapid construction of high-end condos, I noticed a depressing phenomenon: the city of Rio seemed to have forgotten about its youth in its development plans. Nearly everywhere I went around the city, wealthy beach-front neighborhoods included, playgrounds were little more than abandoned vestiges of 1950’s urban development.

I remember riding on a jam-packed bus through Rio’s posh Ipanema neighborhood, inching through the city’s suffocating rush-hour traffic. We passed a tiny playground at the foot of the Cantagalo favela, a slum located on a steep hill nestled between the infamous Ipanema and Copacabana neighborhoods. As we drove past, I saw a little boy – no older than 7 – trying to fix a broken swing he wanted to play on. Although I’d passed the playground several times before, I’d never seen any kids playing there. Seeing the two rusty, broken swings and a poor excuse of a seesaw, I now knew why.

I was set to figure out why Rio – a city at the forefront of urban redevelopment, pouring billions preparing for the upcoming World Cup and Olympic games – was not investing more in its playgrounds, and more importantly, its children.

To learn more, I visited several playgrounds across Rio’s south zone. The zona sul, as it’s called, is the most segregated and stratified part of the city, with multi-million dollar condos side by side to cramped shanties. I surveyed mothers, fathers, nannies, pretty much anyone who could share their experience caring for a child in Rio. Quickly, I began to hear resounding disappointments and frustrations. Parents feared for the safety of their children. They feared their kids might get hurt on the dilapidated playground equipment. They were scared of the worsening traffic. And to my surprise, many profoundly feared the intermittent waves of child abduction.

Many middle and upper class families, though, have alternatives. They can afford to enroll their kids in extracurricular activities, take them to a private country club, spend weekends in the countryside, or just have their kids play in their building’s enclosed outdoor space.

But what about the millions of kids whose families can’t afford such luxuries? The kids who have to walk 15 minutes uphill stepping over open sewage pipes and low- hanging electrical wires? The kids who are considered lucky if they have a rooftop to run around on?

It is no question that Rio is undergoing profound changes. But I can’t imagine it ever becoming a truly just and ‘global’ city if its most vulnerable population, its children, are being deprived of their inalienable right to safety and healthy play.

With a perspective, I’m Evelyn Ferreira.

Radio Perspective – The Day The House Fell

A radio perspective discussing the built environment and public health from one of our BEPHC board members.

The Day The House Fell (Click to hear)

I remember like it was just yesterday…It sounded as if the ground was opening below us. The house seemed to sway as I felt the rumbling to my core. My siblings and I ran under a doorway and waited for the “earthquake” to stop. That’s when we heard the screams. It wasn’t an earthquake. On Sunday, January 18th, 2009 half of my neighbor’s house was brought to the ground. The family lived on the second floor of a duplex and the kids were having dinner while the mother was sleeping. Her side of the house had collapsed and she was trapped. The firefighters soon arrived and rescued her. After that….The neighborhood kids feared that our houses could collapse at any moment. And my siblings had trouble falling asleep for weeks.

A few days after the collapse, a fence and an asbestos warning sign appeared.The cleanup crew arrived in hazmat suits to clear away the remains of the house. We wondered, “Is it safe to play outside?” Our parents weren’t willing to risk it and kept us indoors with windows shut tight.

We soon learned that the home next door had collapsed due to lack of maintenance. Frank McHugh, owned this property and about 150 others. He had 1,600 family tenants and most were working class spanish speaking immigrant families. In 2009, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, a non profit community rights organization visited 70 McHugh properties. They found peeling paint, holes in walls, leaky plumbing, lack of heating, faulty electrical systems, cockroaches, rats, and more. With these developments Mr. McHugh was taken to court. He was told to sell his properties or face serious jail time. So in 2010, the lot next door sold for a whopping $9. Six years later, the lot remains, vacant.

This is a perspective from, Diana Benitez.

Radio Perspective – New Orleans

Radio perspective – New Orleans

I rubbed my eyes and gazed out the window of a van to be greeted by the bright lights of an unfamiliar city skyline. I could hear my fellow service trip members around me chatter about the city’s sights and attractions. After exiting off the interstate highway and into a residential area, I remember observing the houses around us full of pastel colors and unique architectural styles. Still half asleep I heard the words muttered, “shotgun homes, Creole cottages, and double galleries.” And Hanging from many trees, and street lamps in the area were glistening beads of green, purple and gold from the Mardi Gras celebration the week before. I had finally arrived in the City of New Orleans.

Exploring the City was a priority on my agenda for that week. I felt like an innate explorer, wanting to unravel my curiosity wherever I went. The city was like a map marked with multiple X’s which marked the spot for treasure, but where were these spots exactly? I remember heading south in our van one morning on the way to help with a weeklong rebuilding of a home impacted by Katrina. We passed by more gorgeous houses, but noticed how adjacent homes were boarded up. And on the sides were large “X’s.” Every X told its own story.

They were not symbols of treasure, but rather tragedy. As a whole they represented FEMA’s urban search and rescue marking system. First responders during the days after Hurricane Katrina would search homes across the city for survivors. They wrote symbols in the X to indicate the date of the search, hazards found in the structures and bodies that were found. These were remnants of the city’s vulnerability to the natural and built environment.

Nine years later, the country had forgotten, but hope was not lost. New Orleans is still rebuilding, but resilient as ever. Rooted in strong culture and unity, the community progressed with safer-designed homes, improved health outcomes, and sense of preparedness. The City that care forgot was forgotten no more.

This is a perspective from Jimmy Tran.