Monday, November 20, 2017

The Importance of Place in Public Space Design

The Importance of Place in Public Space Design
Rachel Carr, 2020 Cohort


Don’t get me wrong, the new main branch of the Dayton Metro Library is wonderful. It’s bright, innovative, and inviting. Mostly, it’s well suited for Dayton. This last aspect is something that I hadn’t felt until I visited another city’s new central library in Austin, Texas. It’s easy to see the beauty of the Austin Public Library, and want all of its features for the Dayton Public Library without much thought about the important differences between the cities.

The Austin Public Library Central Branch is more than bright. It’s a 6 story vibrant sanctuary, with a “technology petting zoo,” listening stations, and three outdoor decks. After my visit, I walked out wondering why Dayton Metro Library main branch didn’t also have a rooftop deck. The envy faded in a few days, and it became clear why these libraries are different and why they should be.

Often the solutions for creating long lasting, sustainable solutions to design are viewed as interchangeable, regardless of location and time. For example when cities look to implement more sustainable transportation solutions, they may find protected bike lanes are an effective, low cost solution. However, does that solution work in Cleveland? Similarly, I naively wished for outdoor decks and a solar paneled green roof. I am writing this back in Dayton, on a not so atypical morning that greeted me with brisk 27 degree winds; the fireplace on the second floor of Dayton’s library now feels like a much better way to bring people together than an outdoor deck.

Another aspect that I envied now standout in a similar way, like the diversity of media available. In the Austin Public Library there are “listening stations;” like a museum interactive panel, you can selected a radio station, podcast, or other selected form of audio from the menu, put on the attached headphones, and settle into the armchair. If you walk into the Dayton Public Library today, you’re not going to find this feature. But is that such a bad thing? This is not a piece of the infrastructure, it can be added, removed, and is a part the experimental design of Austin’s Library that could easily, in future years, be added to Dayton’s Library. Dayton in the future may have a “technology petting zoo,” too.
There is one feature that Dayton’s library is objectively missing: a connection to the river. Just as it’s vital that design acknowledges the constraints of place in terms of climate and geography, design should connect people to the environment and history of a place. Rivers tend to do both. An exhibit on the ground floor highlights the life and history of Shoal Creek, which runs through Austin’s downtown, and there are vistas on the upper floors that look out over the Colorado River, where the Shoal Creek meets it. Although the Dayton Public Library is nearly as close to its river, the Great Miami River, it does little to acknowledge its existence or highlight its history. As a place of learning, I believe Dayton Metro Library missed an opportunity to included the River in the design, in terms of physical orientation away from the river and lack of educational material on view about it.
The myriad features present in the Austin Public Library are stunning and appropriate for a central branch of a metro library system that serves the 2 million person metro area of Austin, the capital of Texas. However, we should hope that the central library of an 800,000 person metro area is very different. The role of each library is as different as it’s relationship to the space it is in, in terms of community and environment. As a Daytonian, it would be hard for me to be more proud of the beautiful main branch of the Dayton Metro Library. As an admirer of great public design, I am captivated by the Central Austin Public Library. But as a River Steward, I am left wondering why the connection to the river is lacking in the Dayton’s library and what can be done to change that. Austin’s overt efforts to connect to the river through the library creates a sense of shared identity and responsibility between those on the water, in the library, and across all public spaces.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Living Lands and Waters Barge Overnight and River Cleanup

Kevin O'Donnell, 2019 Cohort

I first met Chad Pregracke when he came to the University of Dayton to give a speech about founding Living Lands and Waters. Some fellow stews and I were lucky enough to show him around the RiverMobile and talk with him for a bit before we attended his speech. I remember how great the speech was, and it was so enjoyable to be around Chad. When I heard that Living Lands and Waters had offered for ten River Stewards to come stay overnight on their barge. I knew that I could not pass this opportunity up. I knew that we were going to be volunteering with them at a river cleanup in the morning, but other than that I had very little idea of what we were going to be doing. Nonetheless, I was still very excited.

Morning on the Ohio River in Rabbit Hash, KY

We ate dinner as a group before heading out to drive to Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, where we would be boarding the barge. Out of curiosity, I googled Rabbit Hash and noticed that the town had a population of just over 300 people! While we were eating dinner, we heard from Katelyn that we had been invited to a barn dance in Rabbit Hash. I knew this was going to be a night to remember. We drove down windy roads in the pitch-black darkness to the tiny town of Rabbit Hash, KY. We got a glimpse of the barn dance that we would be attending later before we all gathered together to get a quick tour of the barge and where we would be sleeping.

Before we knew it, we were boarding a metal johnny boat with all our sleeping bags, pillows and backpacks. After driving around to the other side of the barge, we hopped off to see where we would be sleeping. I had no idea what to expect regarding our sleeping situation. I would have been completely fine with just sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag. Instead we walked into large room that was filled with air mattresses that had sleeping bags on top of them! Living Lands and Waters were incredibly welcoming in accommodating for us to sleep in what was normally used as a classroom, and I hope that they know how thankful we all were for that.

Group with Chad after our barge safety talk. 
After getting our sleeping areas set up, we boarded back onto the boat to head to the barn dance. The barn dance was a really unique experience and Rabbit Hash, in general, was one of the most unique locations I have ever been to. The live music was great and it seemed like the whole town was there having a great time. After the live music was over we gathered together again to head back onto the barge. When we were back on the barge we went up to the rooftop and had some nice late night conversation as we gazed up at the stars until we eventually decided that we should get some sleep for the river clean up early the next morning.

When we got up the next morning the crew of Living Lands and Waters had already made us breakfast and coffee. Again, they were incredibly welcoming! After we ate breakfast we finally got to work. The plan was to drive some of the boats upriver a bit and to pick up trash there and put it into piles on the shore. The trash would then be picked up by the boats and brought back to the barge. Since the river was very foggy early in the morning and driving the boat would have been a little dangerous, we instead began moving and organizing some of the trash that was already on the barge. It was great to see everyone working together to be more efficient. There were lots of assembly lines and people helping each other to carry some of the heavier pieces of trash. There was a crazy amount of trash on the barge and it was both concerning and uplifting knowing that all this trash had come out of our rivers.

Clean up crew on the trash barge. 
Once the fog cleared up we got on the boats to clean up trash from the river. The river bank was super muddy, but that didn’t stop any of us from getting dirty to clean the river. We were only picking up trash for about an hour, but we picked up a literal boat load of trash. The power of numbers is astounding! It would probably have taken a few days for just one person to clean up all that trash alone.

While we were cleaning the barge, I was alone helping Chad drive some trash to a different part of the barge and I got the chance to tell him how inspirational I found his story. He saw a problem and he didn’t sit around waiting for an opportunity to fall in his lap, where he would be able to make a difference. Chad created his own opportunity by just getting down to work and cleaning the river himself. He responded in his nonchalant aura with, “things are only as complicated as you make them.” I know that this will be a quote that is going to stick with me for a long time, and that I will never forget how genuine of an experience this was. I am so glad that the Rivers Institute and Living Lands and Waters have been able to develop this relationship that we have and I hope to see it further develop in the future!

Learn more about Living Lands and Waters and why Chad Pregracke won CNN Hero of the Year in 2013 in this amazing video:

Saturday, December 3, 2016

I Spy a Brighter Future

A glimpse of the fun at Adventure Central

I spy something with my little eye and it looks a lot like kids learning their multiplication tables. I spy boys and girls eagerly raising their hands to be picked to clean the dinner tables. I spy them helping each other stack chairs at the end of the night. And most of all, I spy an infinite amount of laughter. I spy Adventure Central. This after school program is unlike anything I’ve known before. Kids come here to not only learn about rivers, creeks, plants, and the environment, but are also aided with their homework. Adventure Central allows them to begin to see their worth. Being a kid is tough, and it’s not acknowledged enough how great of an impact the environment has on the adult a child eventually grows into. Adventure Central is an environment that sees the fiery passions that children develop so easily and embraces them for it, helping to spread the love to everyone.  
My first night at Adventure Central I watched a very discouraged little girl, who had fallen behind in school, catch up on homework. After she put her things away, she sat with a little smile on her face clearly proud of the work she had accomplished. Without Adventure Central, who would have helped her catch up? When would she have found the time? It’s hard to say. However, she grew just a little bit that night and more importantly, she began to believe in herself. Maybe it was the first time or maybe the first time in a long time. Either way, it was a step in the right direction. It is a direction that will show her that she can do anything she sets her mind to and that by continuing to try, she can go further than she ever thought possible.
Whenever I leave Adventure Central, I am eager to return. I want to see what these kids can discover about themselves and their untapped potential. I want to see them grow, and, with the help of people that care, every one of them will grow. It’s easy to become discouraged by the direction our planet and quality of life are heading, but these kids give me hope. They will not be the same generation as the one preceding. They will not ignore the problems ultimately hurting us, and they will not let hate defeat them. When I look at these kids, and the opportunities Adventure Central is giving them, I can’t help but to spy a brighter future.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The RiverMobile Visits Sidney!

After a couple months of planning this event, we were finally able to see it come into fruition. Our RiverMobile has never been this far north before and this was an excellent opportunity to visit our river neighbors in Sidney. Sidney is extremely rural and most of the families have their own farmland. Agriculture is a huge part of life. It was really fun connecting with them and learning from each other.

The RiverMobile was showcased at two different events, the school tours for 4th graders and the Family Farm tours.

For a couple of weeks, I’ve been up to Sidney prepping for our Fairlawn tours. With the help of Leslie and Katelyn, Fairlawn FFA student leaders and moderators, Lynda Adams (Shelby Soil & Water Conservation District Education Coordinator), and of course some pretty awesome River Stewards, we were able to pull off a wonderful event.

Friday 16th
Fairlawn Local hosted 4th grade classes from Fairlawn, Holy Angels, and Jackson Center for their Harvest Days RiverMobile and Dairy Farm tours. They were split into two groups for the RiverMobile and Dairy Farm and then switched after lunch. Not only did the kids get to explore and learn from the RiverMobile, but they also had a lot of fun with the activities. Fairlawn FFA used our edible aquifer activity and they also had other crafts and edibles to incorporate their Harvest Day themes. The kids had a great day full of fun, learning, and treats!

The FFA leaders were trained earlier in the week so that they would be able to lead tours for Harvest Days. They put in a lot of work to organize and plan these events and I was beyond impressed. We brought some extra River Steward t-shirts for our FFA tour guides and they took their roles very seriously. When the school tours were complete, the FFA leaders invited Katelyn and I to Dell Delight Dairy Farm owned by their teacher, Mr. Sailor, and his family. We were able to see their milking facilities and even play with some cows!

Sunday 18th
Our River Stewards: Meg Maloney, Sarah Richard, Katie Weitzel, Ana Ritz, and Charlotte Shade led tours to families taking part in the Family Farm Tour day. The RiverMobile was only one of the many stations that were showcased that day.
Since I wasn’t able to attend the Family Farm Tour, some stewards shared their experience with me.

Katie: “It was really cool to see how interested people from the community were in conserving water and keeping the rivers clean.

Meg: “I loved working at the Drive-In Tour this weekend! I got to meet a lot of wonderful people! It was amazing to hear about how so many farmers are really concerned about keeping the water clean in our watershed. The conversation that stuck out to me the most was a gentleman who said

"Farmers often get a black eye for being the ones to pollute rivers, but we don't want our fertilizer in there either, we want to help. It's just hard to know how."

I think this is really powerful because it reinforces our mission to go out and reach out to the people in the community to help them combat pollution issues.

Sarah: "The community seemed to be genuinely interested in what we had to say no matter the age!
and the smiles on the kids’ faces when they got to paddle in the canoe was absolutely priceless"


Overall, this event only further delineated the whole reason the RiverMobile exists. Our watershed is special and our friends in Sidney also agree. Whether we use water for brushing our teeth or watering our crops, we all love our water and want to see it remain healthy. The younger kids loved sharing stories of how they enjoy the rivers and expressed how sad they would be if the fish were sick or if the waters weren’t clean. Our lovely neighbors in Sidney hosted us with the best hospitality. I can’t wait to make my way back to see those cows!


Monday, August 1, 2016

2016 Summer Team Final Reflection

The past month has been a blast for the Summer Team. We have worked with so many amazing groups. The YMCA camps around the Greater Dayton area made an appearance at our Rivermobile, we got to lead a mini orientation for Adventure Central, high schoolers from Argentina studying abroad at UD through the Center for International Programs were able to kayak and learn about our rivers, and finally the Victory Project men were able to learn the ins and outs of kayaking.

The YMCA camps came to UD from Germantown, Englewood and many other places as well. This River Mobile event was three days long and the amount of enthusiasm from each group was refreshing. We settled into a routine of waiting for the kids to arrive, dividing them into smaller groups, then taking them through each classroom. Every classroom was, seemingly, a new adventure to the YMCA campers. The history room was a great way to gather the children and gain their attention. The second classroom is a great transition from Dayton flood history to information about the water under our feet. The kids love the last classroom because it is interactive and they are allowed to talk about activities that they enjoy. Overall, it was a successful three days and the Summer Team had a great time.

Adventure Central is an organization the the Rivers Institute is very fond of. We were fortunate enough to create a “mini orientation” the the oldest group of campers. We begin the program with some classroom action. The campers were actively learning about the history of Dayton’s rivers and a few of the key figures that helped shape Dayton into the city that it is today. The second day of the orientation consisted of the kayak basics such as safety and proper paddle usage. Finally, the third day of the orientation we took the campers to Eastwood Metropark to get them into the water and practice their new skills. The summer interns probably had just as much fun as the campers did.

We took this newly developed “mini orientation” lesson plan and implemented it on two other programs. These programs included the young adults from Argentina who are studying on campus and the Victory Project boys. Each program was catered to the specific group  but each participant received a little lesson on Dayton’s history, kayak safety, and paddle technique. The boys and girls from Center for International Programs were excited to get off campus and get active. Eastwood Metropark was a perfect location to hike the Buckeye trail, play team building games, and kayak around the lagoon. The Victory Project program timeline allowed the Summer Interns to get to know the participants and the result of this was a very fun and successful paddle down the Mad River.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Lonely Stewardman

Somewhere in South Central Utah
I believe it was about 3 days in when I had a special realization. “I’ve never went more than 1 day and 1 night without seeing at least 1 person that I know”. At that point, I really knew that my journey had begun. So there I was, driving through Arkansas, en route to Texas, seeing ahead of me 17 more days of this solo travel experience. In my 20th year, 20 days on the road, 20 states, 6,100 miles, 11 National Parks, and 160 hours of sleep in the back of my red Mercury. The idea of it excited me. Perhaps that’s because I’m the crazy dude on the road who talks to himself and dances alone in the car. Whatever it is, I enjoy being alone. This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy being with others. Like with all things, there is a time for everything.
             I will say this, being alone that long brings new thoughts to mind. Beyond just thoughts, new perspectives, new habits, and new visions come too. All because it’s a new experience. I so often found myself truly feeling another person there with me. After so many nights, I just felt like surely by now there is someone else next to me watching the moon peek over that desert ridge. For just brief moments in time, I would forget I was the only one seeing, hearing, and feeling these currents of time. If you know me, then be assured I thought of you. I thought of everyone in my life. Enough time had passed that I no longer missed one person like you would miss your mom or your closest friend in a certain moment. I got to a point where I wanted to be with every person I’ve ever met. I wanted to hear the voices and experience the personalities. This wasn’t a sad sort of longing though. I only felt a happiness come over me that I suddenly realized everything in this universe is connected. And that is where the water enters my story. 
Ran into a Momma bear and her
cub 10 minutes after this.
Peaks of Otter, VA
Every person I’ve met, every action I’ve taken, and every place I had ever been to had led me to where I am. I felt I had known that for some time, but it was now much clearer. The kind of clarity that can never be grasped by words. Similar to when you have a really clear thought in your mind about something, but you just can’t put words to it for someone else.
       If you drive down the road from Mt. Rushmore about a half-mile there is a lake on the left nestled in the gray rocks of the Black Hills Forest. Walk around the lake going clockwise and you will come to a bridge. To the woods left of that bridge there is a skinny little blocked off trail that leads to a charming little waterfall hidden in the trees. So of course it wasn’t long before I was in the chilly water feeling the slick rocks under my bare feet. There, shivering in the water, hearing nothing but the gentle crash of the stream, I heard the voice of the water. It said, “Cody, I enjoy your company, but you’re really messing up my flow”. Haha okay that’s my only crappy river joke I’ll tell. But in truth, the water did speak to me. It just spoke to me in a language that is beyond the limits of our own words. And I smiled, cause I knew that all this time I was right. I wasn’t alone. I was not the only one seeing the double rainbow form across the prairie land in South Dakota. It wasn’t just me
Wind Cave National Park, SD
that felt the mist of the waterfall upon my skin in the San Juan Mountains. To take the words of Alan Watts, “You do not find bees where there are no flowers, and you do not find flowers where there are no bees”. They are mutually arising. Thus, they are one in the same, inseparable, just as we are inseparable from everything around us. The water is a part of me and I a part of the water, part of the Earth. Connected we are, all of us, all the time. The birds, the sun, the stars, moon, and rivers. The veins of the universe. Shall we pulse with goodness.

Monday, July 11, 2016

My Summer of Science and Oysters

When the children of Dayton tour our River Mobile, the first station they stop at is a large map of the United States to learn how the rivers are connected to one another. They learn that our Great Miami River empties into the Ohio River, which then joins with the Mississippi River, and finally ends its journey as the Mississippi River spills into the Gulf of Mexico. This summer I find myself working in the very same place where the water from the Great Miami River ends its travels: the Gulf of Mexico.
This summer I have been living on Dauphin Island in southern Alabama, working for the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s (DISL) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program funded by the National Science Foundation. I have found myself conducting research in aquaculture studies, a field that is rarely thought about in the land-locked Midwest. I have been conducting a research project in collaboration with the Auburn University Shellfish Lab (AUSL) to understand how Eastern Oyster shells recover from the unsightly “blisters” caused by the burrowing worm Polydora webstri, commonly known as a mud worm.
This research opportunity has given me the very unique experience (for a Midwestern girl like myself) to learn, not only about marine sciences, but also a community that is built around the water. Back in 2005, Hurricane Katrina damaged the areas around Dauphin Island and Mobile, Alabama and the economy has slowly been rebuilding since the natural disaster. The goal of AUSL is to help start oyster farms around the Gulf of Mexico as a new industry to grow the economy in the south. The number of oyster farms has grown from about five farms to thirteen farms today. Research projects like my own and the many graduate students that study through AUSL aim to help the farmers grow oysters more sustainably and efficiently, so that southern oysters can be just as, if not more marketable, on the lucrative half-shell market across the nation.

I have truly enjoyed conducting research in an applied science field that has allowed me to interact with local farmers and turn their, perhaps, “not-so-scientific-questions” into a publishable research project. It has been great to use my community building skills that I learned through River Stewards to work with the oyster farmers through AUSL where they constantly provide instruction, research and outreach in the area of shellfish ecology and production to the citizens of the Mobile Bay region. It amazes me that no matter where I travel to in this country I can still find communities that value their water sources just as much as Dayton. The love for our waterways and its resources can be felt from the Great Miami all the way at the end here in Gulf of Mexico.

-Charlotte Shade, 2017 Cohort