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Curb Cutting: How Solving Problems for One Group Helps us All

The Polis Institute is a non-profit organization that aims to remove the barriers that prevent experiencing long, healthy, fruitful and dignified lives. Many of these barriers stem from concentrated poverty, but there are additional barriers, both physical and metaphoric, that manifest in a variety of ways. We at POLIS use and develop research around the best practical ways to engage with people living in areas of high distress, and help design long-term solutions for the well-being of their community.

Approaching global systemic issues very locally, over a long range of time, is not a popular model in our fast-paced, instant gratification society. But taking time to get to know people, and deeply considering their expressed desires and visions of what could be, can be effective on a grander scale than imagined.

Conventionally, city sidewalks and city streets met at the right angle of a curb. No harm in that, right? You just step on and off. However, for Edward Roberts, confined to a wheelchair and iron lung after contracting polio, that six inch curb was a major hurdle. As a student at UC Berkeley in the 1960s, he became a disability rights activist, and led a movement to create curb cuts, or ramps, to allow sidewalk access to people with wheelchairs. Curb cuts had existed since the 1940s when they were created to assist disabled WWII vets, but were not in common use or well known until Roberts and his classmates worked to design solutions for a local, small, underserved group of people with limited mobility.

With decades of effort, and the benefit of national attention to the accomplishments of this growing movement, the 1990 ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was passed, mandating curb cuts everywhere – removing barriers to wheelchair access to city sidewalks and the cities themselves.

My point, however is not that a small group won a victory that serves them alone. It is that a much larger and unanticipated group of people also benefitted from the well-designed solution of curb cuts. Anyone pushing a baby stroller or a grocery cart, riding a skateboard or bicycle, can use a curb cut. Curb cuts help call attention to an intersection’s crosswalk which increases pedestrian safety, are easier to shovel clear in the snow, and are more navigable for the very young and old. When people concentrate their efforts in assisting the overlooked, and solving just a single problem, it can open a whole new world of opportunities for all of society. The Polis Institute desires to be an Ed Roberts in the world, who in slowly serving and designing solutions for the one, would benefit the many in cities across the United States and the world.

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MVP Families Downtown Outing

MVP Families will be gathering for a family fun outing in our own backyard of downtown Orlando on Saturday February 25th from 9:30am-2pm!! Participants will join POLIS staff at the Orange County Regional History Center for a group tour including a Black History Scavenger Hunt and two other sections of the museum. After lunch, MVP Families will explore the “Tiny House” exhibit at the museum before heading to the Downtown Library.
We”ll be taking a tour of the four floors of the library with all of its new offerings, which includes a recording studio, 3-D printing, and more. Children will have free time to explore reading sections of the library and parents will have an opportunity to get library cards for their children, followed by time at Lake Eola. We’re looking forward to spending time with MVP Families and giving folks the opportunity to get library cards and learn more during Black History Month. If you’re interested in joining and would like to know more details — email Shawn!
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MVP Families: Family Highlight

barbaraBarbara and her daughter are one of our core MVP Families. They look forward to every meeting and haven’t missed a single one. Last week, when Barbara didn’t get the reminder text for the upcoming meeting when she expected it, she called our Family Engagement Coordinator, Shawn, to make sure everything was on track and to see if he needed any help.

To these core families, MVP Families is becoming a very important part of life. In the past two sessions, families have built goals together beginning with academic goals for the children. They have also worked on two family goals – a health and wellness goal and a financial stability goal. Barbara is focused on reading more with her daughter so that she “learns the right words and is ready for school.” She has also set goals to eat healthier and to secure more hours at her job at Vacation Lodge.

 

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#MyGivingStory

This year we invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on what you love about the Polis Institute. Maybe it’s our foundational resources and trainings, like Dignity Serves or Asset-Based Community Development. Maybe our Growth Leadership program helped you dream again about what you’d like to see improved in your neighborhood. Perhaps it’s the monthly COOP meeting that inspires you or reminds you that people care about and are invested in our city’s well-being. Or maybe one of our initiatives shifted the way you view and value other people and how you do the work that you do. Whatever the impact you feel POLIS has made in your life, we encourage you to share your story on #MyGivingStory this holiday.

From #MyGivingStory:
#MyGivingStory is a nationwide campaign and social media storytelling contest that will foster a public discussion about the reasons people give. Working in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Facebook, “everyday givers” reflect upon why they give to a certain nonprofit organization and then share these personal stories on social media. (The winners’ featured nonprofit organizations will receive $2,500-10,000 grants.)

If you feel like you don’t have a lot to give this year, remember there are many ways to give back to the people and organizations that have shaped you – lend your voice and experience this year by filling out this short form. We’ll be glad to hear the impact we’ve had in folks lives over the years.

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Using Art to Visualize Community Assets

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) involves leveraging what a community has to offer so that it can move itself towards a desired future. A first step in the process is typically some kind of inventory of what is there – talents of individuals, programs and facilities, informal groups, property – the whole nine yards. This information is captured, analyzed, and visualized so that connections can be made and initiatives can be created that benefit the community. The product of this inventory is often called an asset map.

Art is a great way to visualize these assets and can serve as a nice complement to the more common options of a tabular list or a map. The most useful asset maps include all three – artwork, a database, and on dynamic online map. All three can depict the same information but are just displayed in different formats, each with its own appeal. The tabular data gives you just the facts, the map shows you where assets are, and artwork provides emotional and narrative content.

This video describes an art project that POLIS led as part of the LIFT Orlando project:

 

The project described in the video above was fairly complex. POLIS was contracted by LIFT Orlando to do the asset mapping project and hired ArtWorks to do the creative process with the children. There was a lot of planning to conduct the sessions in four different locations that included a school and three community centers. There were expenses to pay and significant expertise from the ArtWorks staff to guide the students through the process. But the end result was amazing. The art from the kids was inspirational and aligned very closely with what over 1,500 adults had said in door-to-door surveys.

The survey information was entered into a database which was also loaded into a GIS (Geographic Information System). But the information was also visualized in a more artistic way, or at least a graphic way. This involved loading the responses into an online word cloud generator called WordItOut (there are several) that produced a graphic of all of the recorded words of responses to the survey questions. The more frequent the word, the larger the word in the graphic.

Three of the questions that POLIS asks during its asset surveys are depicted below followed by example word clouds from the LIFT project.

What is your favorite thing about the neighborhood?

likemost

 

What would you do to make the community a better place?

makebetter

 

What is something that other people say you are good at?

goodat

 

These representations of what people say or imagine invoke much more of an emotive response than merely hearing a statistic or seeing a dot on a map. Data and maps are very helpful but less structured graphic and artistic representations of community assets can be especially helpful for unlocking ideas and vision – which are essential to making positive change. These images are presented at community meetings, along with stats and maps, to help build initiatives that are most likely to engage community interest and provide a tangibel community benefit.