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On Dec. 7, Boston Civic Media (BCM) held its semester-culminating event at the Bill Bordy Theater in Chinatown, gathering the undergraduate students and faculty from around the city who spent the semester exploring how to address the “wicked problem” of climate change.
> > A “wicked problem” is one that doesn’t have a clear solution and requires interdisciplinary strategies and systems thinking.
BCM is a consortium of Boston institutions that work together to enhance undergraduate education by facilitating curriculum design, improving research and partnership practices, and strengthening connections within the local civic media ecosystem. This semester, BCM faculty from four Boston-area colleges taught courses that acclimated students to civic media concepts and research methods by working with local nonprofit organizations who directly deal with climate change. Participating schools included Emerson College, Wheelock College, Boston Architectural College and Northeastern University.
The “Climate Change and Design in Boston” event was an opportunity to showcase student projects from the semester and hear from a panel discussing how the city’s government and advocacy groups are confronting climate change.
Catherine D’Ignazio’s class on Data Visualization at Emerson partnered with GreenRoots Chelsea, who works to improve the urban environment and public health in Chelsea and surrounding communities. The class used data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to investigate the links between asthma and pollution in Boston, Lynn and Chelsea — three industrial cities that have high rates of asthma. The students explored noise pollution in Chelsea from the nearby Logan Airport and examined the quality of green spaces in the city (hint: they found that most “green spaces” don’t have much green in them after all).
Susan Jane’s class on Media as a Tool for Social Change at Wheelock partnered with LivableStreets Alliance, which advocates for innovative and equitable transportation around Boston. Using print and digital media, the students supported the organization’s campaign for better busing systems in Boston and helped engage community members in the Washington Street Corridor. The students used popular memes like “Salt Bae” and “Math Lady” on LivableStreets’ social media channels to engage constituents.
Jon Honea’s class on Science in Translation at Emerson explored the obstacles to communicating technical scientific concepts to the larger public and developed effective strategies for overcoming those challenges. The students helped the Mystic River Watershed Association create a website, a town meeting slideshow, and a helped develop an app for engaging volunteers.
Sharon Harlan’s class on Climate Change and Society at Northeastern partnered with Emmanuel Gospel Center, which strengthens Christian leaders to serve urban communities. The students conducted a survey to learn about attitudes on climate change in Roxbury. They meanwhile investigated the impact of increasing heat on Roxbury’s elderly population, and proposed solutions to the crisis, including increasing green space and reducing parking lot sizes, providing public cooling centers, and creating a system for neighbors checking on neighbors.
Sara Wylie’s class on Community Research Methods at Northeastern explored environmental data justice, which “recognizes the power and politics associated with the production, storage and dissemination of environmental data.” The students partnered with GreenRoots Chelsea, and found disturbing inaccuracies between federally reported data and reality, and also staged data performances in public that made visible the pollutants in the Mystic River near Chelsea.
After the student showcase, a panel of local leaders in climate change — including Muge Undermir of Greenovate, Andrew McFarland of LivableStreets Alliance, Maureen White of GoBoston 2030 and Carolyn Day of Ellenzweig—responded to the student projects and discussed the role of cities like Boston in leading climate change action.
The panelists discussed their own roles in confronting climate change and offered encouragement for the students in attendance who want to take action. Andrew McFarland prodded students to reach out to their university administrators who are big stakeholders in the city. Muge Undemir coaxed students to contact their public officials to express their thoughts and ideas on climate change action, because as Muge said, “we are listening!”
Next semester, another BCM cohort will take on climate change at four Boston universities, with classes focusing on Climate Change, Games and Social Change, Data Visualization, Data Storytelling, Art and Ecology and Community Practice. Keep up with the latest BCM updates on Twitter by following @EngageLab.