Anna & UPP

mark your calendars! The next procession will take place May 21, 2011

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  1. Mashapaug Pond
  2. Water drains from Mashapaug Pond
  3. Water from Mashapaug drains into Roger Williams Park Ponds
  4. Roger Williams Park
  5. Water flows from RWP
  6. Water from Roger Williams Park joins the Pawtuxet River
  7. Pawtuxet River
  8. Pawtuxet River joins Narragansett Bay
  9. Narragansett Bay

Photos: Phil Edmonds

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    School Workshops

    Part of what has made the past three processions so successful is the energy brought to them by students and young people! This year, UPP is doing long-term workshops in four schools in Providence. Genise emailed around this quick write-up last week, and I thought my readers might be interested to learn about the rest of what UPP is doing:

    Students at Sophia Academy and Nathan Bishop Middle School will create instruments out of found, natural and recycled objects while studying Narragansett history and environmental social justice issues with the help of Science Teacher Alyssa Wood, Social Studies Teacher Tatiana Cozzarelli, Providence ¡CityArts! for Youth AmeriCorps Teaching Artists Lisa Melmed & Kris Lee, and UPP core members. Presentations by Director of the Tomaquag Museum Loren Spears will provide additional context and the resulting instruments will be played during the 2011 UPP on May 21st.

    To add a touch of drama, students from the MET School will work with Brown Center for Environmental Studies MA student Adam Kotin to create a theatrical performance to weave into the procession (made possible by the Superfund Research Program’s Community Engagement Core, directed by Brown professor Phil Brown).

    And last but not least, a collaboration with Community Preparatory School is in the works to construct two art fences at public
    access points to Mashapaug Pond’s waters with a short written explanation of the environmental and health reasons the public should not enter the water. Visitors will be able to write their wishes for the pond on tags housed in birdhouse-like structures located nearby and tie them to the fences to create a tangible record of community dialogue.

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    Wrapping Up

    Here at Brown our semester is winding down. In fact, this project is due tomorrow… yikes! I’m going to stay on with UPP at least until the procession in the spring, but for the purposes of my class, I’m going to take a minute to reflect on what I’ve learned so far.

    I entered in to my partnership with UPP with the goal of learning about grant writing. Suffice it to say, I doubt this will be the last nonprofit community organization I work with, and I figured it was high time I started learning about the process of fundraising. In exchange for letting me look on while they worked on their grant applications, I did some administrative things, and am using this blog to spread the word about UPP.

    At this point, I’m still not a grant writing expert, but I did learn a lot about what it takes to keep a community-based organization running. Here’s what I learned:

    1. A lot about RIPTA, since my work with UPP took me off College Hill to the Southside, the Jewelery District, and Reservoir Triangle. Those of you associated with Brown know that our campus can become kind of like a bubble…I’m loathe to admit that in the past, I’ve gone weeks without leaving campus. Not so anymore, since UPP has given me a chance to apply my ivory-tower skills to some real-life situations.
    2. The first step in grant writing is to learn. Learn about your organization, the community you serve, and your funders. Most sources agree that thoughtful grant applications that show understanding of the needs of the community, the history and values of the organization, and the priorities of the funder are most likely to get funded. A successful program harmonizes community, organization, and funding source.
    3. Sometimes this harmonization involves some creative wordplay and diplomacy. Being tactful doesn’t mean being dishonest, it means you’ve taken the time to understand where your potential funders and community members are coming from, identify your shared concerns and emphasizing them. The exercise of identifying shared values and priorities can make your project a success, but can also be a site of community building.
    4. It’s important to keep community stakeholders abreast with your activities. UPP accomplishes this by sending out emails that update our supporters on our current projects.

    Obviously, these aren’t the only things I’ve learned. I’ve learned a lot about the arts, working with schoolkids, drumming circles, Narragansett and native peoples’ history, community organizations in Providence (check out my resources page to link up with some of them), funders in Rhode Island, and the water quality concerns and history of Mashapaug Pond. Overall, this has been a really great opportunity for me to learn outside of a classroom, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Urban Pond Procession.

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    These Waters are Connected

    In learning about UPP and Mashapaug Pond, the concept of the watershed has been really useful for me. US EPA offers this definition of a watershed:

    A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. John Wesley Powell, scientist geographer, put it best when he said that a watershed is “that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community.”

    The concept of the watershed helps us understand how our actions effect each other and our natural systems. It can help us understand our common interests and shared values; we’re ‘inextricably linked’ to the other living creatures and the non-living systems in our watershed. To show why the health of Mashapaug Pond is so important, I attempted to put together a graphic that shows the movement of water from the pond all the way out to Narragansett Bay… yup, I know, Photoshop is not exactly my strong suit. BUT I think you can get the gist.

    Phil Edmonds did the work of going around and taking photos of the places where the water travels from water body to water body: it starts in Mashapaug Pond, travels underground to the Roger Williams Park Ponds, joins the Pawtuxet River, and flows into Narragansett Bay. Thus, the water that starts in Mashapaug as the potential to effect the livelihood of those who make their living in the Bay, plus recreation places of all of the people who depend on our coastline to access open space and natural beauty.

    The base image came from Google Maps.

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    Health Concerns

    The toxins present at the Gorham Manufacturing Site are of particular concern because they may put already vulnerable populations at additional risk. Children and young adults, like those attending Alvarez High School, are more vulnerable to toxins than adults. Furthermore, Providence residents are already exposed to higher environmental health risks than others in the state. According to a profile published by the Environmental Justice League of RI, these risks include higher rates of asthma, lead exposure, and obesity than other parts of the state. On the issue of lead poisoning, Providence Plan found that 1:6 Providence children under age 6 were exposed to lead in 2000. Statewide, 1:11 children under 6 were exposed to lead. Nationwide, this number was 1:25. These risks are unevenly distributed within the city based on racial, geographic, and economic factors; according to the EJLRI, “within the city, African-American children are three times as likely to be hospitalized for asthma and Hispanic children are twice as likely, as compared to White children.”

    The special vulnerabilities of children and the high potential for exposure from multiple sources and pathways also warrant a cautious approach.

    Community Letter to DEM from Robert Dorr

    Read more …

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    What Community Do We Serve?

    Mashapaug Pond is located on the Cranston/Providence border, especially close to the Reservoir, Elmwood, and West End neighborhoods of Providence. Mashapaug Pond is connected to the Roger Williams Park Ponds, is part of the Pawtuxet River Watershed, and the Narragansett Bay Watershed. Despite problems of contamination, these ponds represent some of the biggest open spaces in the city, and are important places of recreation for Providence families. The Narragansett Estuary Program estimates that 1 million people visit Roger Williams Park yearly. EPA estimates that 28,244 people live within a one-mile radius of the Gorham site and 228,435 people live within a four-mile radius. There are also two schools in the immediate area: Charles Fortes Elementary School and Alvarez High School. UPP conducts workshops in other Providence schools: Sofia Academy, Community Prep, the Met School, and Nathan Bishop. The connected nature of the waters whose health we aim to improve means that the number of stakeholders is broad.

    Many of the stakeholders are people of color; in Reservoir Triangle, 16.6% of residents identify as Black or African American, 22.6% of residents identify as Hispanic and 15.4% identify as Asian or Pacific Islander. In the Southside, 24.4% of residents identify as Black or African American, 52.3% as Hispanic, and 9.1% as Asian or Pacific Islander.

    Many of the stakeholders come from low- or middle-income families. The median household income is $39, 769 and 10.4% of families are below the poverty line. The median household income in the Southside is $20,928 and 35.5% of families are below the poverty line. (Providence Plan)


    "Gorham/Textron Disposal Area." Waste Site Cleanup & Reuse in New England. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 24 Oct. 2006. Web. 7 Dec. 2010. < e05d104ae2da713685256b4200606cf5!OpenDocument&Highlight=0,gorham#top>

     "Providence Neighborhood Profiles: Reservoir." N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2010. <>.

    "Providence Neighborhood Profiles." The Providence Plan. Web. 7 Dec. 2010. <>.

    Rose, Amelia. “Restoration of Providence’s Urban Ponds: Care Alliance Issue Profiles.” N.d. Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island. Web. 7 Dec. 2010.

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    What is the Story of the Gorham Site?

    Although this post doesn’t respond to one of my questions, I wanted to summarize what I’ve learned about the history of the Gorham Site, Mashapaug Pond, and the Reservoir Triangle Neighborhood because I think it gives useful context to the work of UPP and other environmental justice groups working to improve the health of Mashapaug.

    As I’ve mentioned before, the Narragansett Indians used the pond as a site for their winter camps. The area was part of Roger Williams’ original 1636 land purchase. European settlers established farms around the pond, and in the 1800s industrial development began with an ice plant and a cotton mill. In the 1890s Gorham Manufacturing Company began to manufacture silver and bronze flatware at their facility on Mashapaug Pond, eventually gaining international recognition for their products. The image is a map of the Gorham facility dated 1920. It comes from the DEM document index and you can access it here. Gorham was one of the largest silver manufacturers in the world, with 30 buildings at their 37-acre facility and three shifts of 1000 workers each. The manufacturing processes taking place at the Gorham facility used heavy metals, cyanides, corrosive stripping agents, lubricants, solvents, lacquers, thinners, and metal degreasing solvents, some of which are responsible for the pollution the pond is experiencing today.

    Read more …

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    After participating in a week-long workshop learning about the health of the Pawtuxet Watershed, the young artists of Providence CityArts for Youth produced their very own mini-procession, featuring the one-of-a-kind fish costumes and flags they created in conjunction with the workshop.

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    This is what the old signs looked like. Click the photo to access the source, Rhode Island DEM.

    This is what the old signs looked like. Click the photo to access the source, Rhode Island DEM.