2019 Week 5: Law/Policy/Government

Sam M HeadshotSAM MOLLIN | MARYLAND TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION

After preparing for roughly the whole summer since I got here, this week one of my ongoing side tasks finally came to fruition; The Charles Center Wayfinding Workshop. First, some background. This workshop was held as part of the Inclusive Transit Initiative that the MTA is carrying out to make its signage at transit locations more accessible to people with disabilities. This includes things like height adjustments for people in wheelchairs, audio or tactile signals for people with vision-related disabilities, and whatever else people express interest in at our various workshops.

This workshop was meant to gather feedback on new prototype signs for the metro. These signs were meant to be more accessible specifically for the elderly or people in wheelchairs or using other mobility aids. After weeks of attending meetings where we designed the signs, me and the designer (the designer and I, if you insist) went to the station with the sign prototypes and made sure everything stuck to the walls and fit where it was supposed to. The next day, we went to the metro station at 7 am, with two hours to set up the signs (with help from the rest of the office) until the event started. After that, we went through the actual event, and I ended up collecting feedback from one of the people that attended. Rather than give a play by play of everything I did, here are some lessons I learned from what may end up as the marquee event of my internship, in no particular order.

– Setting up signs is really hard
– On a related note, make sure your command strips work on EVERY stair before assuming it will work on all of them after trying one
– Even if you have a plan, things can still go very far from how you think they’ll go
– Having the best possible plan is still really important; assume things will go wrong
– Metro stations can get very, very hot when it’s humid out
– Living with a disability shapes how a person interacts with the world in a way that might initially be difficult to understand as an able-bodied person
– At the end of the day, improved signage and tactile clues will never beat a real person that’s there to help people know where to go
– Dark yellow and black do not contrast well
– Things look bigger on a computer screen than they do in real life
– The reason feedback events exist is to know when you’re doing something wrong, so be open to change if your project requires it
– Public service is about taking the time to actually listen to people
– The wind from metro trains coming into the station can be a great way to cool down, and a great way to make the signs you’re taping down move a lot more than you want them to
– Glass + command strips = failure
– People might not want to follow the path that an exhibit gives them
– If you want your survey questions answered as written, it’s easier to have the person taking the survey fill it out
– A survey can miss a lot of the nuances that having a real conversation can give you about a project and its goals

I hope this didn’t read too much like a LinkedIn post from your most #successful, #insightful connection, but I’m glad I was able to experience so much at this event, and I hope the initiative keeps on going well after my internship ends. As you might be able to tell by those bullet points the set-up was a little rougher than it could’ve been, but the event ended up working out, and I got to see first hand the power of public input in making sure our government is actually helping the people it wants to help. If I learned one thing from the way-finding workshop, it’s that bottom-up top-down partnerships are far more effective at leading to good government than top-down approaches alone could ever be.

 

Alyssa W HeadshotALYSSA WOODEN | OFFICE OF SUSTAINABILITY

The biggest obstacle to getting things done in Baltimore – at least from a city government perspective – is funding. The City doesn’t have the money to add compost to its regular trash and recycling pick-up services, nor does it have money to build an industrial composting facility that residents can bring compost to. The fact that funding is an obstacle shouldn’t come as a surprise, but coming into my internship I guess I thought that being a government entity, the Office of Sustainability would have more resources than a smaller nonprofit. But the funding for a lot of the Office’s initiatives, including the project I’m working on, comes from outside sources. My project, for example, is being funded by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which itself is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The NRDC awarded funds to Baltimore to do a deep dive into food waste and come up with strategies to reduce it. The team at the BOS has awarded some of those funds, in the form of $10,000 grants, to ten different organizations ranging from an elementary school to a residential compost pick-up service. Those organizations will use the funds to implement a project related to food waste prevention, with the Office helping to coordinate or promote their efforts in any way it can. The Office has also been communicating with other funders, such as the Abell Foundation, in the hopes of securing additional funds for the project.

It can be frustrating to consistently be confronted by the fact that a certain project can’t be completed, or a certain idea can’t be realized, due to lack of funds. It can also be shocking to learn just how much money it takes to complete even seemingly small projects – for example, building a three-bin composting system for a community garden costs around $7,000. Another issue is expanding programs to reach more people. For now, the farmer’s market compost drop-off doesn’t cost the City anything thanks to dedicated volunteers and generous market staff, but if the program were to be expanded to other locations it would require money for more bins to hold the compost, transportation to bring it from the drop-off point to the farm that will receive it, and likely a part-time staff member to oversee the operation. The Office has been collecting data on how many people drop off compost each week in the hopes of making the case that this is a valuable service that would be worth the additional funds, but unless they can find another external donor, it seems unlikely that the program will expand anytime soon.

 

Natalia W HeadshotNATALIA WOO | OFFICE OF THE STATE’S ATTORNEY

This week, I was able to attend two homicide trials that took place in the Baltimore City circuit courts. In order for the Junior States Attorneys to understand how to conduct a mock trial, the trials provided as an exemplary experience to the students. Unfortunately during the first trial, the Judge had asked the Junior States Attorneys and the staff to leave the court due to the graphic nature of the crime. A young girl had been killed by her boyfriend and left behind school bleachers. Thus, the evidence and court materials of sexual and violent content were inevitably heavy. We were then redirected towards a trial of a man who had been shot in his home by an acquaintance. As soon as I stepped into the courtroom, I noticed a family in the back corner; an elderly woman was quietly crying. It really hit me. This room that I entered and the trial I was watching was no TV show episode. Incarceration and crime was not a distant realm. Right in front of me were real people, real community members, and real family members who were subjected into the criminal justice system through normalized trauma and systemic inequalities. For this trial, an argument over a bag of chips had escalated into the courtroom. In the mainstream society, a fight over chips could be seen as trivial. But, in a parastate with a different resources, rules, and punishments, the lines and relationships are precarious.

Regarding my relationship with the YouthWorks students, my abilities to supervise all 60 of them has considerably become easier and enjoyable. As I’m building friendships amongst the students, they listen to my directions with less problems. This week at BITES, I have realized that my focus and goals for CIIP have entirely shifted away from myself and towards the YouthWorkers. By the end of the Junior States’ Attorneys Program, my goals are to change their attitude, instill an understanding of professionalism, and spark their hopes and aspirations. Throughout the program, I hope that they look forward to coming into City Hall every day to learn, without feeling forced to show up at work. I want them to come in because they want to come in every morning. Most importantly, my goal is to have each student come outgrown, with any positively marked difference, from when they had initially started the program.

Faith B HeadshotFAITH BROWN | YOUTHWORKS

This week was the first full week of data collection and surveying. Starting immediately on Monday morning, my Youth Analysts and I split into groups of 2-3 and spread out across the city to visit different worksites and interview the YouthWorkers and supervisors. It has been organized chaos and a huge learning experience for me and the Youth Analysts alike.

During this first week of surveying, we stayed pretty central and visited lots of sites near the 21218 zip code. I was initially hesitant at the large amount of freedom and responsibility we entrust our YouthWorkers, but have quickly learned that they are all experts at navigating their city and using public transit. If anything, I need them more than they need me. They finish three surveys in the time it takes me to do one. One of the things I stressed most during their orientation was the need to be punctual and not run late to interviews. Now they are the ones rushing me and saying “Ms. Faith, we need to leave now so we can get to the site on time!” They are professional, hard-working, and hilarious. One of them reminded me just this week that I promised to help them improve their resumes and make their own LinkedIn accounts and that she is looking forward to doing so. My supervisor checks in on me each morning to see how things are going, and I only ever have positive reviews- not because of how great I am doing, but because of how easy my team makes my job. He assures me that I lucked out or got a miracle team, but I attribute their success to how eager and capable our youth are to work hard and to take on more responsibility when given the chance. They make me so proud and so optimistic about the future of this city.

Another wonderful aspect of our weekly travels is the amount of information I am able to learn about each of the neighborhood we visit. I think I have learned as much about this city in the first five days of traveling and interviewing than I have in the past 3 years of going to school here. I am amazed by the sheer number of neighborhoods and wide array of communities and community organizations that exist within such a small area. I am even more amazed at the amount of fun facts and differing experiences the Youth Analysts have about the different parts of the city. Even though they all live within the same zip code, all five analysts attend or attended five different high schools and have their own unique opinions and experiences in regards to the communities we visit. Time is flying but I am working to soak up as much knowledge from them as I can and give them as much of my knowledge as I possibly can in the next three weeks.

 

Josh L HeadshotJOSH LEE | BALTIMORE CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

After around the 150th person whose contact information I entered into the spreadsheet for outreach for the Parent and Community Advisory Board, I was incredulous. What is the point of having to continuously enter data into a spreadsheet? Am I really doing impactful work? Am I actually doing all that I can to help Baltimore City? These have been some questions that have been on my mind after a particularly difficult week, in terms of the work that I was doing. This situation has made me think about a conversation I had with a fellow CIIP-er at the last Bites session. We were talking about how what success would look like for us by the end of the internship. For me, I needed to see results of my work. My vision of success was predicated on the bigger, longer-term impacts that I could make in my time with the advisory board. While this is a fine goal to have, I was inspired by the friend’s answer. He said he already experienced success in his internship because, for him, success was being able to help at least one person – and he has no doubt been able to do that thus far. My long-term vision of success has somewhat clouded my reason for doing this internship. Not to make big changes or make a lasting impact, but to be present in my situation and being a servant of the Baltimore community. While it will still be difficult to keep doing administrative tasks, I know that I am helping the community and the members of the advisory board, making it all worth it.

Tags: , , , , , ,