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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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. <http://yosemite.epa.gov/r1/npl_pad.nsf/51dc4f173ceef51d85256adf004c7ec8/ e05d104ae2da713685256b4200606cf5!OpenDocument&Highlight=0,gorham#top>
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.
whew! It’s been some time since my last post, but don’t worry, I’ll make it up to you. I’m going to start by answering the questions about UPP I posted recently. Also look below from some lines from Holly’s website that I LOVE. I think her philosophy is spot-on.
So: what is the story of UPP’s founding?
UPP emerged in 2008 from a partnership between RI State Council for the Arts (RISCA) and the RI Department of Health (DOH) to design new warning signs at Mashapaug Pond for visitors and residents. According to RIDEM, the pond is not safe for swimming or fishing, and visitors should take caution while engaging in other recreational activities that could increase the probability of skin-to-water contact. However, there was a concern that the signs furnished by the RI Department of Transportation were inadequate- not very aesthetically pleasing, only printed in English. Furthermore, according to the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island, there is some anecdotal evidence that people living in nearby neighborhoods engage in subsistence fishing in Mashapaug Pond, increasing their exposure to industrial toxins (PCBs and dioxins). It was clear that improved signage and community engagement were needed to keep people safe.
Holly Ewald undertook a residency at Alvarez High School and Charles Fortes Elementary School in which she worked with students to design new signs. This resulted in 8 permanent signs furnished by RI Department of Transportation with text in Cambodian, Spanish, and English. There are photos of the signs below, check them out!
The first procession took place in June 2008 as the culmination of the residency programs. The students made fish costumes and screen prints of their designs to use as posters. A number of local arts groups, including What Cheer! Brigade and Big Nazo Puppeteers, joined in as the group made its way through Southside neighborhoods. This year will be the fourth annual procession, and it seems like there’s more momentum than ever!
“Since moving to Rhode Island in 1998 I have come to believe more and more that reexamination of place-based histories and environmental legacies play an important role in social understanding and social justice. My projects are designed to promote awareness of a site’s history and environmental health, as well as residents’ and visitors’ current and future impact.”—
On Saturday I went to UPP’s kickoff event. In the evening, we gathered at the boathouse on Mashapaug Pond off of Reservoir Ave to share energy, music, and snacks. It was great to meet some of the interesting, talented, and motivated people who are each sharing their strengths with UPP and to hear about the many efforts that will eventually culminate in the 2011 procession.
Phil led us down a narrow path along the shore to a small clearing where we perched to make a small fire and hold a drumming circle. Holly talked about what is in motion for next year’s procession—partnerships with schools and other groups in Providence and Rhode Island. She also talked about some of the history of the pond. Pre-European contact, the Narragansett people made their winter camps near the pond when change in seasons forced them to move inland from their coastal summer settlements. The Narragansetts spent the winter in longhouses with walls woven from aquatic reeds. The walls retained moisture and would release humidity when fires heated them, keeping the longhouses warm. What struck me about this story is that people have been gathering around this pond to share food and music and make plans together for a very long time. Being part of such a long-term effort to deepen our sense of place is inspiring and gives new urgency to this work so that future generations will be able to enjoy a safe, healthy Mashapaug Pond.
Like many November days in Rhode Island, yesterday was grey, blustery, and cold. However, I had the morning off, and it seemed like a good day to do some exploring around Mashapaug Pond. The 77-acre pond straddles the line between Cranston and Providence, RI, which as I’ve mentioned before, is a very urban area. However, the variety of neighborhoods around the small pond surprised me, running the gamut from dense residential, to commercial, to industrial. In places, it seems very urban, with tightly spaced homes separated from the water by train tracks. In others, the houses near the pond have lawns and gardens and there are trails and ball fields near the water. On the west side of the pond, the vast parking lots of an industrial park creep down towards the water’s edge, ending at a chain-link fence a few meters from the water.
However, I was most struck by the feeling I got visiting the community boathouse. With the exception of the maples and oaks, many of the trees around the pond have shed their leaves. Nonetheless, in many places the pond is difficult or impossible to see from the road even without a screen of leaves, as is the case at the boathouse. It’s tucked behind a shopping plaza on a busy commercial street. Approaching the small park, I had a hard time believing I was in a city— the unpaved road lined with evergreens couldn’t have offered a sharper contrast with the Ocean State Job Lot behind me. What I found was a lovely park offering views of the pond and access to the water, and the last thing I was expecting—a feeling of rural surroundings. I also took some pictures I’ll add as soon as I find my camera cord!
I thought I would take this opportunity to delineate in a more technical way the reasons why Mashapaug Pond is unhealthy and give some context for the work that community activists are doing. Urban watersheds pose unique challenges to the health of ecosystems, and Mashapaug Pond is no exception. Especially after rainstorms, the Pond has elevated phosphorus and bacteria levels. Too much phosphorus is a problem because it encourages excessive aquatic plant growth, potentially hazardous bluegreen algae blooms, and can lead to low dissolved oxygen levels and fish kills. In Mashapaug Pond, phosphorus comes from tributaries connecting it to Spectacle Pond, storm water and runoff, atmospheric deposition, groundwater, and waterfowl. In urban watersheds, storm water is especially challenging to ecosystem health because it carries pesticides, fertilizers, and other lawn chemicals, pet waste, and road sand and salt. Mashapaug Pond also has contaminated sediment and the fish that live in the pond have contaminated tissue. The contaminated sediment is a result of industrial waste that was dumped into Mashapaug Cove by Gorham, a silver producer, while their plant was in operation from 1898 until the 1960s. As mandated by the Clean Water Act, Mashapaug Pond has a plan to restore the health of the polluted water managed on the state level called a TMDL (total maximum daily load). However, community involvement is a crucial component in the restoration of the health of the pond- it will be community members who keep those in power on task and who learn what average citizens can do to reduce their impact on the pond.
Information from a presentation developed by RIDEM.
To learn how community projects and organizations acquire funding, I will be working with Holly Ewald. Holly is an artist, educator, and activist who organizes the annual Urban Ponds Procession, which is a community event designed to raise awareness around the water quality issues facing Mashapaug Pond. The Environmental Justice League of RI writes:
Artist Holly Ewald started the Mashapaug Pond Procession as a culminating public event in June 2008 after a several-month residency in local schools and community centers educating young people about the pond and creating silkscreen posters and fish costumes. The posters were then the inspiration for 4 new more pictoral signs with text translated in 3 languages warning pond visitors of the health hazards of the pond site. Eight new signs fabricated by the Department of Transportation are permanently in place around the pond.
Mashapaug Cove is home to the former Gorham Manufacturing Site, where silver products were produced from 1898 until the 1960s. The area is now contaminated with industrial pollutants like dioxins, VOCs, and lead. This has led to contaminated ground water and unsafe buildings. Mashapaug also has a highly urbanized watershed, leading to problems of contaminated storm water runoff and high phosphorus levels. Holly is working to keep pressure on Textron (who bought Gorham) and RIDEM to remediate the site and also to educate the residents of the area about the dangers of the pond and what they can do to improve its health.