Sunday, May 29, 2016

Civic Systems: First Responders

Margaret and Lindsay, with help from Ada, turned their interest in emergency medical response into an examination of a non-profit company whose representatives every driver in Ann Arbor has seen: Huron Valley Ambulance. One of their public relations officers, a former EMT named Chad French, was incredibly generous with his time, coming to Summers-Knoll for an interview with the girls, showing us around their facility on the south side of town, and even providing snacks. HVA has a fleet of over 700 vehicles in southeastern Michigan; in the second installment of Awesome Vehicles, we looked through both the front and back of an HVA ambulance (below). Chad tested out a diagnostic machine (worth several thousand dollars) used in all ambulances on Gabe, finding him in good health. We also saw the call center where 911 calls are routed to stations all over the region.

Civic Systems: Power

Power corrupts.                                   
Absolute power is kind of neat.         
                            --Donald Regan

Karenna and Marcellin took us to the University of Michigan Central Power Plant for their exploration of power in Ann Arbor. One of the directors of the operation, Jim Watterson, handed over the conference room for the students' explanation of how the steam-based turbines of the plant work (Jim was duly impressed). They also spent some time discussing the plant's transition from coal to steam in 1966, an environmentally based change that was years ahead of its time. After Marcellin and Karenna led a debate on the pros and cons of coal power, Jim took us into the control room of the whole enterprise (below). The next time you pass that huge plant where Huron turns into Washtenaw, you'll know why nothing ever comes out of that smokestack. It's been obsolete for fifty years.

Civic Systems: Snow Removal

Matthew and Gabe ushered in the Awesome Vehicles portion of our Civic Exhibitions with their tour around the Field Operations unit of Ann Arbor's city services, a few minutes south of Summers-Knoll off Ellsworth Road. First, our host Kirk Frederickson explained the priority system of snow removal in Ann Arbor: how much snow brings out the trucks; who gets service first, and why; how long it takes; how use of sand and salt has reduced the environmental impact of this city service; and the reduction in wintertime accidents that can be attributed to salt and plowing. Then, the good stuff. First, Kirk showed us around one of the city's six $160,000 snow trucks. (It was Matthew's father who figured out where the air horn was.) Then, we got to look inside the salt dome, where thousands of tons of salt are stored for use every winter. Some climbing and salt-sliding followed.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Civic Systems: Little Free Libraries

Ellie and Emma led us on a charming pedestrian tour of Emma's neighborhood in Ypsilanti, where no fewer than three neighbors have constructed Little Free Libraries. The girls explained that an LFL is a small, raised cabinet, usually with two shelves filled with books. Anyone who walks by can take or leave a book--or both. Most LFL creators are private homeowners who set them out on a front lawn, though others, like the Ann Arbor YMCA, may set them out on street corners or in public spaces.

The girls shared a lengthy interview with one of the LFL owners and brought a stack of books with them for us to exchange as we saw fit. (I made exchanges at two of the three libraries and ended up with a hardcover copy of Jared Diamond's outstanding Guns, Germs & Steel.)
As civic systems go, Little Free Libraries are a splendid example of an informal, grass-roots system, with no overseeing body--a sort of crowdsourcing.

Summers-Knoll hopes to set out a Little Free Library of its own in the 2016-17 academic year.

Here are a couple of worthwhile links:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Civic Systems: Public Libraries

Lee and Evan welcomed us to the downtown branch of the Ypsilanti Library. In preparation for our visit and their Exhibition, the boys conducted a formal interview with Lee's mother, Jenny Hannibal, who works at the library.

First, they showed us around the facility, both the larger collections upstairs and the children's and young adult sections and computer stations downstairs. Then they convened the group in one of the conference rooms for some background on how the library functions and its role in public life.

Finally, Evan and Lee set us up with an activity. They divided the attendees into several groups. Each group received a list of ten items to find in the library. The clever aspect of the activity was that we weren't given simple clues such a a dictionary or a novel. Rather, the boys gave more complex lists that considered different audiences, with items such as a biography that might appeal to a ten-year-old or one of Jane Austen's lesser-known novels. This gave the activity more complexity and proved an interesting challenge.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Civic Systems: Public Art

Loyal readers will remember that our Civic Systems Projects & Exhibitions began to take shape way back in the winter, when Friend of SK Mary Morgan, founder and director of the Civ City Initiative (http://www.civcity.org/), joined us for a bus tour of the area, during which the kids identified a few dozen systems, both formal and informal: our trip is at http://sikkenga.blogspot.com/2016_01_01_archive.html. Later, they requested systems for their Projects, which required them to research the system well enough to explain it, identify someone with expertise on that system, and conduct at least one interview in preparation for an Exhibition.

Kaeli and Nik were the first to prepare and present their Exhibition. Mary joined us. The topic was public art, an informal system. They chose to conduct it at the Cube behind the Michigan Union, a well-known example of commissioned art. They interviewed David Zinn, a renowned chalk artist, who works both independently and through commissions. (David's wonderful work is here: http://zinnart.com/.)

The interview was terrific--both questions & answers. In addition to exploring the ins and outs of commissioned art, they asked David his thoughts about graffiti. He replied that he always wants his art to make people feel good, and that graffiti makes at least one person feel bad --the owner of the space. That's why he sticks to an impermanent medium, private commissions, workshops, and public spaces, mostly sidewalks. After the explanation and interview review, and a few spins of the Cube, Nik and Kaeli provided their classmates with chalk, and they went to work.