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Fighting the world view that "nobody cares"

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

 
vanessaVanessa German has been called an activist. Thinking just of her artistic merit and her ability to redirect the thinking of her audience, she is that. But outsiders easily ascribe that word to people who make efforts that would be much less remarked upon in a “safe” neighborhood. 
 
The performance artist and sculptor will be performing Friday at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery, 531 W. 26th St., in New York, where her show “Homewood” has been up since mid October. It closes on Nov. 9.
 
The photos here are of two pieces, “Self Portrait of the Artist with Physicalized Soul,” left, and “Defiance,” below.
 
Her activism is what the mainstream would consider quiet. She is an educator. One of her projects is the Art House, a city-owned building in which she oversees children who come after school to make art several doors from her own house in Homewood. She cleans illicit detritus from around it before anyone shows up. 
 
Her art is not quiet if you spend time with it. It is laden with the stuff of every day life and the stuff of everyday life where she lives, including intangibles.
 
Her description of “Self Portrait” goes like this: “Old masted model ship, oil tin, tar, black pigment, white pigment, blue spray paint, cell phones, twine, wire, toy alligators, toy guns, toy hand cuffs, toy boats, pistol key chains, in honor of the ocean, blue iron, 3 birds as thought caught and killed, 2 ceramic horses, blue beads, blue bottles, wooden ashtray feet, my mother’s mother was Cherokee, my father’s mother’s mother was Native American -- her name was Hattie McWoodson, carved wood souvenir head of little girl from Africa, no conclusions to be drawn, porcelain doll heads from bombed out doll factory in Germany, souvenir clock brought back from Versailles in France, hearts, beads, buttons, twine, keys, the sense of drowning, the fight to stay afloat, tears, blue cloth, wire, wood, plaster, wood glue, wooden stand.”
 
When I interviewed her recently for my Walkabout column, which is scheduled to run in the Post-Gazette next Tuesday on page 2, she talked about her campaign to prove kids wrong when they say “Nobody cares.”
 
In talking to and instructing children, she hears that mantra often: “They say, ‘Nobody cares,’” apropos of nothing and everything, she said.
 
She is trying to prove to the Westinghouse High School Band that people do care. The band had raised about $6,000 of $20,000 it needs to stay afloat. The indiegogo campaign at  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-the-westinghouse-bulldogs has just a few days to go.
 
She is actively promoting the campaign to help the band buy instruments and uniforms by offering art and performances to people who donate. 
 
“I will make you a handmade, hand painted dress if you donate $150 to the Westinghouse Bulldog Band indiegogo campaign,” she wrote on Facebook. 
 
“Would you like this sculpture?” she wrote in another post. “I am gifting this new sculpture to some generous soul who donates to the Westinghouse Bulldogs Band indiegogo campaign. This sculpture is called ‘stop crying already, sing a song.’”
 
She had 22 names in the hat and one person’s name in it 10 times in a drawing for the sculpture. german
 
 If the band fails to raise the money, it wouldn’t prove that nobody cares. Lots of organizations for which people have cared greatly in the past are experiencing the affects of frugality these days. But it would be fodder for an already pretty intransigent world view.
 
"It hurts my heart," she said. "I think about that in Homewood as a whole. I see so many kids who are hard, kids who think that whatever people think about Homewood is true of them too.”
 
Photos courtesy of the Pavel Zoubok Gallery

 

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Polish Hill's twist on treats

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

showdahnThe Polish Hill Civic Association has devised a clever response to what's really scary about Halloween in the neighborhood — drivers short-cutting between the Strip and Bigelow Boulevard and going too fast with trick or treaters afoot.
 
The association’s board, led by Alexis Miller, has gathered a group of volunteers who will wear costumes and hand out candy to drivers who slow down
 
“With only four roads in and out of Polish Hill, cut through traffic and speeders take a heavy toll on Polish Hill residents,” she wrote in an e-mail.
 
"During rush hour, from 4.30-7p on Halloween, residents will be promoting ‘treats for safe streets’ to drivers at the intersections of Melwood Avenue at Fleetwood Street and Dobson Street at Hancock Street.’
 
This ploy could increase the traffic volume among drivers who have a sweet tooth. I wonder if they’re passing out Skittles. I’d slow down for Skittles. Or dark chocolate. Mounds, preferably. 
 
Residents in costume will hold signs reminding drivers to slow down and offer sweets to those who drive slowly and make complete stops at the intersections.
 
Frankly, if I saw drivers making a complete stop -- and that goes for anywhere in the city -- I’d faint and blame it on the ghost.thanks
 
 
 
 
Photos of Catherine McConnell,a resident participant, by Alexis Miller

 

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Pittsburgh rates in clean commute

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

 
chart
Pittsburgh comes in 8th among major cities in the percentage of commutes people take to work by walking, bicycling or mass transit. A study at the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for Quality Communities is cited in a report by Emily Badger in Atlantic Cities today ranking cities by commuter choices.
 
New York, Chicago and Miami lead their respective regions. 
 
There is no category for western cities in this report, which is odd since San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis and Honolulu are pretty high in the rankings. In fact, in a separate chart that shows the percentage of trips by bicycle, Portland has shot way past every other city since 2000.
 
The data come from the 2012 American Community Survey and deal only with commuting. It would be interesting for a study to delve deeper into how people get around otherwise, either for short trips to the store or by combining a long walk or bike outing with a chore or errand.
 
On a recent visit to New York, a friend remarked on the fact that, while we saw lots of overweight people, the percentages — based on sheer numbers of people on the streets  — were quite low compared to Pittsburgh, where the number of overweight and morbidly obese people is just as remarkable.
 
Considering the population of New York compared to Pittsburgh and the greater options for transit and safe bicycling, it's no wonder that New Yorkers represent a trimmer day in America.
 
On our visit, in one day, we walked about 12 miles, noodling around the Lower East Side, the East Village and then opting to walk to a gallery in Chelsea and to walk back to the Lower East Side. It was a slog at the end, but being on the streets is the whole point of a visit there.
 
Oklahoma City, by contrast, is a city built for cars and it comes in last. Unlike New York, Pittsburgh and other older cities, its urbanization was built on the use of petroleum. 
 
By their nature, cities whose design caters to cars more than to other modes seem less interesting. But they are shortchanged in that way because when we drive, we fail to see the details, the nooks and subtleties that make us interested in places.
 
 
Chart courtesy of the University of Oklahoma Institute for Quality Communities.
 

 

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Passive conference on aggressive savings

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

passivehouse
Pittsburgh is host to the eighth annual North American Passive House Conference next week and would be bringing in bringing in U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary Shaun Donovan for the opening keynote address if it weren't for the Grande Olde Government Shutdown.
 
The conference is October 15-19 at the Omni William Penn Hotel, 530 William Penn Place. Two days of pre-conference technical workshops begin Tuesday, Oct. 15. On Wednesday, from 5:30-7:30p, a reception will open the poster session and exhibit hall.
 
The conference opens on Thursday with keynote plenary sessions, lunch, and an afternoon of four breakouts.
 
An optional tour of passive house projects is on Saturday.
 
You can find out more about passive houses and the conference, plus register to attend here. The site will provide information if you want to exhibit and if you want to present the process of your own passive house project.
 
Passive houses are designed and employ systems to use 80 percent less energy than standard new constructions. They typically cost 10 percent more to build. 
 
They do not use solar or geothermal systems for heating and cooling or electrical recovery. They are built to be like a Thermos. Here's an article that helps explain how passive space works.
A few plans for passive houses have sprung up in Pittsburgh and one is complete. Lucy de Barbaro and Ayres Freitas are in the process of planning theirs in Squirrel Hill.
 
Laura Nettleton, a principal at the green architectural firm Thoughtful Balance, is retrofitting an old house in Shadyside to meet passive house standards. Her firm built the area’s first passive house for ACTION-Housing in Heidelberg last year.
 
The conference highlights include two speeches on Thursday by Sean Penrith, executive director of The Climate Trust and Sebastian Moreno-Vacca, a Belgian architect and educator who founded and presides over Plateforme Maison Passive.
 
 The conference is brought to you by the Passive House Alliance-US, the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture and Passive Buildings Canada with support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.
 
Photo by Elliott Kaufman

 

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Struggling to be an equitable city (with update)

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

 
One of the most frustrating realities of urban revitalization is the economic slope that’s created when a place gets hot. 
 
Some people call this gentrification. That’s a loaded word whose meaning isn’t accurate anyway. Where there is no nobility there is no gentry.
 
But there’s a word for what’s wrong with letting the market dictate who lives where — exclusion. Cities have done a pretty good job of figuring out, at least in recent years, how to ensure that people who have less money can remain in the mix.
 
The problem is, there are more people with less money and fewer properties in the mix.
 
An article by Sarah Goodyear in Atlantic Cities“What We Haven’t Figured Out Is the Question of Gentrification” addresses this issue.
 
Amanda Burden, director of planning for New York City, is quoted in the article: “I have never, since I had this job, come up with a satisfactory answer of how to make sure everyone benefits. It’s a question I would welcome more answers as to how to make this a more equitable city. Because that’s how we continue to attract people from all over the world, is people perceive the city as an equitable city, and a city with opportunity for all. It’s not just those poetic words. But I really wonder how we can do it.”
 
We can do it if we appreciate neighbors for what they contribute that's of real value instead of money. 
 
Here's a link to another story for thought food on where we are headed.
 
I ran into a low-income housing advocate in a neighborhood bar the other night and we talked about the discouraging circumstances that have created two sides of residents in the Central Northside neighborhood — those who want an expanded Mexican War Streets historic district and those who don't, fearing that historic standards will drive their future home repairs beyond their means to stay in the neighborhood.
 
Not that there’s a problem with two sides of a discussion. But this is a discussion begging for some kind of compromise. Compromise is why we have rent-control when the market would otherwise lick its chops and let the poor be damned. Compromise is why something gets done that might not get done without it.
 
What many people tend to forget as soon as they reach their comfort zone is that the poor are every kind of people in the world, not just a static “element” that could be better off if they would just try. Van Gogh, whose effort spoke for itself, died poor.
 
Most of our great-greats came here from other countries with $4 in their pockets. OK, mine had $5 but still.
 
Who isn’t struggling now might be struggling next year. It might be me or you and we sure would love to stay in the homes we love. I’d like to think the neighbors would want us to stay, too.
 

 

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