COOL Summer Learning Experience Reflections

Hi Backyard Geographers, Julie here!

This summer, I was the Geographic Society of Chicago’s intern for the COOL Summer Learning Experience (CLE) in Waukegan, Illinois. Never having heard of Waukegan or CLE, I thought it would be a great chance to explore a new area, learn how to ride the Metra, and keep my GIS skills sharp. Little did I know, I’d leave at the end of the summer having met some amazing students who, might I add, were more proficient in GIS in eighth grade than I was as a freshman in college.

Each year since 2008, this summer education program has provided students with science-oriented experiential learning opportunities, and since 2012, the Geographic Society of Chicago (GSC) has been a part of that mission. In working together, CLE and the GSC are able to provide students with opportunities including field trips, GIS, and this year, improvisational comedy.

I was assigned to help the eighth and ninth grade students, and our main task was to create Story Maps (an interactive presentation-style technology from Esri) to display how Waukegan’s harbor has changed through the years. Story Maps are great tool to bring GIS and mapping to a broader audience beyond those already familiar with these technologies. With this in mind, our final product was three separate Story Maps on the past, present, and future of the harbor. We did this by gathering waypoints of local businesses near the harbor with our GPS units, and conducting interviews with the owners. We uploaded not only our data, but also photos and the information from the interviews to our Story Maps. The Story Maps were also made possible by a technology guru who went by the name of Turtle as well as a helpful volunteer named Dave.

 There are many teachers, staff members, and volunteers behind this operation, but the leader of the pack is the caring and benevolent Ms. Coyote (Barbara Waller), who insists that everyone at the camp, including both staff and students, goes by a “nature name.” The concept of nature names had a way of bringing everyone together, and I was excited to be dubbed “Otter.”

At one point, the students were to give presentations on potential career they would like to pursue. As the students were practicing their presentations, their teacher Ms. Butterfly (Kimberly Waller) and I noticed that some of them could use a confidence boost. Once Ms. Butterfly found out that I enjoy doing and teaching improvisational comedy in my spare time, she decided that we could use this to help the students relax and feel confident in what they were saying. I watched their confidence blossom each time we did improv, which translated to them feeling more capable in their speech-giving as well as in their GIS skills. 

The community engagement that CLE fosters is unlike anything I’ve seen before; with these students being knowledgeable on their community’s history, it supports them in paving the way for their community’s future. If you are interested in learning more about COOL Summer Learning Experience and its mission, find its website linked here: https://www.clewaukegan.org/

 

Julie

Undesign the Redline

 

Hello Backyard Geographers!

I come to you today to share the “Undesign the Redline” exhibit, which is currently being displayed in Evanston at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. I heard about this exhibit through word of mouth, so I mistakenly thought that it was about the CTA’s Red Line. Instead, it delved into Chicago’s history with redlining, a practice used by banks to deny loans to minorities and devalue areas based on the presence of people of color via color-coded maps. It is necessary to note that, while redlining and its effects are highly visible and impactful in Chicago, it is a ubiquitous problem, and has been since the conception of redlining maps in the 1930s.

A primary takeaway of the exhibit was the way in which racism became purposefully encoded into everyday structures and systems through redlining. “Redlining embodies a process that transformed explicit racism into structural racism […] The structural situation created by these programs largely remains the same” (Undesign the Redline, 2019). And indeed, these structures and their impacts continue on; the exhibit included four superb maps that centered on mobility, education, economic security, and health & wellbeing. The connection between redlined areas and these categories became apparent as the redlined maps were layered over present day data on these categories, allowing the viewer to see that, for example, mobility is incredibly low in previously redlined areas (see map gallery above).

The second photo shown in the gallery above is a 1939 map of the “Homeowners’ Loan Corporation Residential Security Map,” which shows small yellow push pins. These pins are placed by visitors to indicate where they or someone they know lives. This exhibit encouraged visitor participation, from providing sticky notes and pens to post questions and comments on the panels, to asking thought-provoking questions of its audience. One of the questions was “How might redlining play a role in shaping the experiences of people in your community?” This question correctly assumes that redlining shapes the experiences of people in their communities, and leaves it to the audience to use the information they’ve gleaned from the exhibit to give their answer.

On one wall, there was an in-depth timeline of racism in the United States, which showed how the U.S. moved from slavery into current manifestations of structural racism. These panels, shown in the gallery above, give necessary context to see those present day manifestations of racism, like the racial wealth gap. In the past, it’s been said that this wealth gap is due to differences in education, employment, and income. These factors have some bearing, but do not affect the wealth gap with as much gravity as intergenerational wealth, something that non-white communities have been deprived of. This disparity resulting from intergenerational wealth (or lack thereof) leads to the following: “[…] Whites have a median net worth ($111,740) nearly 16 times that of Blacks ($7,113), and over 13 times that of Latinos ($8,113)” (Undesign the Redline, 2019).

In the present day, redlining has morphed from its original shape; this is not to say, however, that redlining in its original form has been completely eradicated. A current example of redlining’s presence can be seen in recent days as Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of the United States House Financial Services Committee. He was being questioned by Joyce Beatty (D – OH) when Beatty commented on Facebook’s practice of withholding certain information from particular communities based on redlining. “[…] You are redlining or using zip codes to eliminate people from getting information,” (Webb, 2019). Beatty’s comment manifests a present-day use of redlining that is more covertly racist than denying people home loans based on race.

This exhibit had a wealth of information on practices beyond redlining used to systematically oppress minorities, including blockbusting, predatory banking, contract buying, and speculative investment, all of which are shown in the gallery above. These policies are explicitly racist and were intended to be so from the beginning; when classifying neighborhoods, words like “Foreign Born,” “Relief,” and “Negro” would be used to describe the residents and subsequently redline them, causing disinvestment. “Any threat of foreign born, negro, or lower population? If so, indicate these by nationality and rate of infiltration like this: ‘Negro – rapid’” (Undesign the Redline, 2019).  Aside from the overtly racist language used, surveyors were instructed to describe the “rate of infiltration” as though people of color were the enemy, and committing a crime by residing in certain neighborhoods.

Although this exhibit mainly focused on presenting and outlining the history of redlining and other discriminatory practices, there were also suggestions to remedy it. “Redistributing, regenerating, and recirculating needed resources” (Undesign the Redline, 2019) were all listed as ways to un-design redlining, as the title of the exhibit stated, and reinvest in disenfranchised communities. It is possible that the suggested solutions were kept vague in order for viewers to engage with the concepts and potentially think of their own solutions, writing their suggestions on the space provided at the end of the exhibit.

The only thing that I would change about this exhibit is its accessibility; it was so well done that I would love to see it in schools and libraries all over Chicago, rather than being tucked away on the third floor of Evanston’s civic center. In fact, my friend and I were looking for the exhibit and asked multiple people if they knew where the exhibit was, only to find out that most people didn’t know it existed. This being said, I absolutely recommend taking a day trip to visit. As a practice in thinking geographically, take notice of who is occupying certain spaces while in Evanston, and conversely, who is not occupying them. In thinking like a geographer, perhaps you can use some of the information from this blog and WE’s Undesign the Redline exhibit to contextualize your findings.

 

Enjoy your visit!

Julie

 

Undesign the Redline was produced by WE, a social impact design studio. Check out their website for more information on their work and projects. http://www.designingthewe.com/

 

 

Works Cited

“Undesign the Redline.” 4 Oct. 2019, Evanston, IL, Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.

Webb, Kevin. “Ohio Congresswoman Rips into Mark Zuckerberg, Calling It ‘Appalling and Disgusting’ That He Failed to Answer Questions about Facebook’s Civil Rights and DiversityProblems.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 23 Oct. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/mark-zuckerberg-joyce-beatty-facebook-diversity-race-congress-2019-10.

BioBlitz Big Marsh

Hello Backyard Geographers!

      My name is Julie Watkins and I am the Geographic Society of Chicago’s 2019-2020 intern! Today I’d like to share with you our upcoming event, BioBlitz Big Marsh. For those that are unfamiliar, a BioBlitz is defined as “an intense period of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area.”¹ This is the GSC’s second time doing a BioBlitz at Big Marsh with the intention of logging the area’s plants and animals via the free app, iNaturalist. This event is free and open to all! Please be sure to RSVP “Going” on the Facebook event. We look forward to seeing you on September 14th! Facebook event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/348660959357508/

 

Details

  • September 14th
  • 10am-1pm (Friends of Big Marsh celebration 2pm-6pm)
  • Big Marsh, 11599 South Stony Island Ave, Chicago, IL 60617

 

A Brief History of Big Marsh

      Big Marsh can be found in the Calumet Area Reserve on the Southeast side of Chicago. As Chicago’s 564th park, Big Marsh earned its designation as a park in 2016 after being used as an industrial site in the late 1800s.² Laden with nine steel mills, this industrial site turned the wild and beautiful marshland into a wasteland filled with slag.³ The Chicago Park District acquired all 278 acres of Big Marsh in 2011, and Friends of Big Marsh has been working with the Chicago Park District ever since to create a site of eco-recreation. 

      An eco-recreation site is a site dedicated to habitat restoration as well as leisure and recreation for neighboring communities. For example, Big Marsh’s successful bike park, modeled after Valmont Bike Park in Colorado, is built atop remaining slag from the steel mills.³  Other popular activities to engage in at Big Marsh are hiking, birdwatching, and fishing. Called a “mecca of biodiversity” by Lauren Umek, project manager at Chicago Park District’s Department of Cultural and Natural Resources,³ Big Marsh is a prime spot for a BioBlitz, and certainly sets the bar high for other eco-recreation sites.

      I hope you enjoyed this brief history of Big Marsh, and I look forward to sharing more events, blog posts, seminars, Travelogues, and the like with you all soon!

 

Julie

 

References

[1] “BioBlitz.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 July 2019, 

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BioBlitz.

[2] “Big Marsh Park (Park No. 564).” Chicago Park District, Chicago Park District, 2014, 

www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/big-marsh-park-park-no-564.

[3] Schulman, Ben. “How Chicago Turned an Industrial Waste Site Into a Nature-Loving 

Cyclist’s Paradise.” CityLab, 27 July 2016, www.citylab.com/design/2016/07/how-chicago-turned-an-industrial-waste-site-into-a-nature-lovers-and-cyclists-paradise/492665/.

Chicago Before Chicago