A memorable experience: our first visit to the Washington State Capitol in Olympia

On March 3rd, I drove to Olympia with Sharon and Si to attend a public hearing in Washington State Capitol. Fortunately, we also got a chance to talk to assistants of representatives about the bills that we heard during the public hearing. I must say this was an impressive and amazing experience, everything seemed so fresh to us and we’ve learned a lot during the “trip”.

 

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To attend the hearing (which began at 8am) on time, we got up at 5:30am and departed to Olympia at 6:00am. Even though it was super early, there were lots of traffic on I-5. On our way to Olympia, we were excited but also nervous since this was our first time to “participate” in legislative process. We arrived at Washington State Capitol at around 7:30am. When we first arrived there, we couldn’t find the parking lot and hearing room so we asked a staff for help, then we experienced how the staffs welcome the public to know about the place and the legislative process. They were all very friendly and helpful, which gave us a great first expression of the place. By the way, I was so excited since I’ve learn these legislature buildings in another class and I got the chance to see them, it felt amazing that different classes have such connection.

 

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Before the public hearing began

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The public hearing began at 8:00am in first floor of John L. O’Brien Building. There were not many people but these people seemed so familiar with each other, we supposed they may follow these bills since the very beginning.  There were six bills which had been discussed and decided by ballot in that hearing. The HB 1797 and HB 1913 were two bills that I’m most interested in. HB 1797 concerning encouraging affordable housing development and preservation by providing cities limited sales tax remittance for qualifying investments, providing cities and counties authority to use real estate excise taxes to support affordable housing, and providing cities and counties with council manic authority to impose the affordable housing sales tax. After 20 minutes discussion, this bill finally got 9 ayes, 4 nays and 0 excuses. HB 1913 concerning creating a leasehold excise tax exemption for certain leasehold interests in facilities owned or used by schools, colleges, or universities. During the hearing, representatives pointed out that this is a serious and useful bill to promote the development of education system; they also emphasized that this bill should only focus on higher education level such as university and colleges since they played crucial role in our society. The bill was adapted.

 

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The hearing was efficient so it did not take us long time. Since we still had many time left, we started to seek if there was other hearing. We asked the staff who helped us at the beginning and he told us there would be a Caucus debate in Capitol building which began at 9am. We went to the House Gallery on the 4th floor of the building and joined the morning pray. After that, all the representatives left and started their caucus which took more than an hour. During the break, we considered that we may had chance to talk to the representatives or at least their assistants. So we decided to talk to three different people: Si and Sharon talked to the assistants of two representatives of 43rd district. The senator and his assistant of 43rd district was in a meeting so I decided talked to Megan Walsh, the assistant of the representative of 49th district since her desk was next to Curtis Knapp, legislative assistant to representative Nicole Macri, 43rd district and she would like to have a short conversation with me. I told her that I’m interested in the bill- HB 1797 and I appreciated that their effort and decision; the effort on affordable housing is at least moving toward a right direction. I also suggested that adjusting building codes and allowing developer to promote higher density community can be other useful methods for creating more affordable housing. Though Sharon Wylie, the representative of 49th district is more focus on transportation system and public health, her assistant Megan told me they still appreciated that we came all the way down to Olympia and shared our supports to them. She also wrote down my name, the number of the bill that I mentioned and my short suggestion. I don’t know if they would consider my suggestion, I was still very happy that I got a chance to express my idea.

 

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During the debate

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After the short conversation, we went back to the House Gallery and listened the debate. The bills that they talked about that day were more about public housing such as the control of the use of Marijuana and other medicine. It was such a fascinating experience that watching representatives debate and voted. The whole process was transparent and I could clearly know who supported or objected the bills.

 

Overall this was a memorable experience and I really appreciated that I could have a chance to visit the Washington state capitol buildings and “participated” in these serious but interesting process.

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Further info:

HB 1913 http://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1913&Year=2017

HB 1797 http://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1797&Year=2017

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Integrate bus card with other devices: make utilizing public transportation easier!

 

Improving public transportation system is an effective way to reduce the use of private vehicles as well as a key point for healthy development of urban area. It can also reduce the CO2 in both direct and indirect ways. Despite controlling congestion and providing better service of public transportation, redesigning bus card might be helpful as well. My idea is to integrate bus card into other devices– the idea derived from an experience which might be common:forget bringing the bus card and there is no cash either.  For the people who don’t get used to take public transportation, they maybe face more this awkward situation than others. In some extend, my idea may can help to reduce this situation and make people’s life easier and more convenient; besides, the idea has diverse possibilities which make it easy to implement. Here are some examples:

 

1.Integrate bus card with sim card.

Actually this is not a new idea. In my hometown- Shenzhen, people can purchase a new sim card which is linked to bus card (we call it Shenzhen-pass) since six years ago. The Shenzhen-pass and sim card share one phone account, so people only need to add money into one account and both functions can be used. This concept doesn’t require high-technology so I think it can adapt to Seattle as well.

 

2.Integrate bus card with watch (or similar device)

There are diverse types of smart watch today. These smart watches especially Apple watch has similar functions as smart phone. The function- Apply pay inspired me that the same concept may can be used in improving bus card. We can install “Bus card” into smart watch or other smart devices; or can convert the card into an app, so people don’t have to bring the physical card.

 

  1. Other thoughts

There is another possibility is we can design the card as a tiny device which can attach to something else such as glasses. These ideas may require the increase the difficulty of producing bus card and the cost, however, the change also has the capacity to optimize people’s life and encourage people to use public transportation. Bus card is a simple and useful design which works for such a long time. However, we can think about our bank card, even we used the bank card for longtime, there are lots of people appreciating the convenience which Apple pay (or other similar card-free service) brings them. What’s more, people may concern that if Apple pay would lose our personal information, bus card may be easier to apply since it contains less personal information.

Online Workshop: a chance for politican and citizens to communicate “face to face”

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Design workshop

 

When we participate in community projects, normally we would hold several workshops for community members before we come up with the design concepts; sometimes, it may has additional workshops for optimizing the concept.Since community design is slightly different from other type of projects, it has stronger connection to the residents and need to meet more demands. The most effective way to hear and gather residents’ voice is workshop. Here are some basic steps of design workshop:

1.Defining the goal of the workshop- what information do you want to know from the workshop? Any issues that need to be pointed out? What questions should we ask?
2. Designing a series of exercises helping people to consider the questions we asked and come up with appropriate opinions. Besides, exercises can be an efficient way to illustrate our purposes and ideas. They are the significant bridge which connect designers and residents.
3. Reviewing the results and discussing during the meeting, this offers the chance for us to reconsider our opinions after hearing other’s voice.
4.Visualizing the results and converting them into clear diagrams, then sending the feedback to residents. If necessary, starting to prepare the next workshop.

Struggling with our own ideas and blinding ourselves is one of the most horrible enemy to designer which would negatively affect our design decision. Questionary may be anther way to get people’s idea. It has, however, a drawback that information would lost during the process of transition. Workshop offers an valuable chance for designers and residents( or we can say “potential users”) to communicate face to face. In market, transition will increase the cost of products. Similarly, I believe there is also a “cost” for transition of information.

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Potential interface of Online workshop

When I read the series of articles about I-732, I kept thinking why not create a online workshop which might provides more direct communication for both politician and citizens? With the technology today, it is not difficult to offer a platform or app for online workshop. Actually the mechanism of online workshop will be quite similar to online class. One principal is responsible for organizing the workshop; participants can share their opinions not only by text but also graphics or videos; a background program can filter the information by keywords and collect the most valuable ideas from participants. I can’t guarantee that such a workshop would work since there are so many participants and ideas, however, it at least offers an possibility for a large group of people communicate “face to face”.

Real-time feedback system: a possible way to encourage and guide people to save energy.

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Diagram of Tax and price; traditional feedback

Energy tax may be one of the most efficient and simple framework for reducing not only carbon emission but also other energy waste. Considering some of the natural resource such as water is basic need for daily life, some regions and cities define the average amount to meet each family’s monthly use and the part that higher than average amount would be charged for much higher price. Some regions also applied the credit system so we can see the credits on our bills. However, these solutions may draw people’s attention on reducing the waste of energy and offer the feedback of our monthly or annually use, but failed to offer more direct feedback and more information about what are the performances of my neighbors? What about the comparison between our neighborhood and others?

 

To provide a more direct and clear feedback to users, I design a feedback system which can be installed in house or download the app into our mobile devices. Basically the feedback system is a software that can visualize the amount of energy use and provide not only monthly feedback but also real-time feedback and provides additional information that related to energy use.

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Real-time feedback and alert: We can check the amount that we already used and set an alert that would notify you if the amount of the energy is going to be higher than the average. Real-time feedback can give users stronger sense how energy is being used and it can more or less remind users to reduce or use energy appropriately.

 

Compare with ourselves, our neighbors and other communities: This function can expand the influence and eventually affect the cognition of the public. To compare with ourselves, we can have clear sense that how the amount fluctuates in each period, then we may start to think about why this month we use such a lot energy? Why another month we success to save energy? It offers a chance for auto-criticism; to compare with neighbors, we will put more efforts to save energy because inherently we don’t want to be the one who wastes energy the most. Also, we can learn from our neighbors; to compare with other communities, can be a good way for developers to persuade people accept higher-density communities. Because though the feedback system, they can see how the higher-density communities save more energy.

 

Tips and achievements: One of the easiest way to persuade people change their behavior is providing an alternative way. In this case, the feedback system can not only show us the amount that we used, but also provides tips for us to follow. Sometimes people may have awareness that we should save energy, but how to do it might be tricky. The system can be used as a guideline that help people to change their behavior. Besides, the system can also show us what can be benefited by our correct behavior. For example, showing pictures, videos or data of how the environment gets better or something like that.

Modular seasoning container: a possible way to reduce the cost of recycling different size of bottles.

One day, I decided to make some grill ribs as my dinner and I started to prepare for it. Despite the meat which I bought from PCC downstairs, I prepared at least 8 kinds of seasoning.

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Different sizes of seasoning

They had different size and shapes of container; diverse labels with different fonts; some of them were even hard to squeeze. It took me such a long time to prepare these seasoning, I began to think about the process of recycling them- it could be even harder and it would bring more energy costs than we thought. What if I designed a set of modular containers that can be reused and easy to storage rather than purchased different size and shapes of seasoning?

 

Here is the description of my modular container:

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  1. This container had regular and modular shape, which makes it easy to storage and transit (For both consumers and merchants).
  2. Considering the special groups of users such as the old and children, the container includes a small “trigger” which allows people to push the seasoning out of the container by one hand. The mechanism of the “trigger” is utilizing the air pressure to press the seasoning.
  3. The container can be reused; consumers just need to purchase the small plastic bag with seasoning and put the bag into the container.
  4. The “head” of the container can be replaced to meet different needs.
  5. Besides, the stores can also offer different sets of seasoning for different dishes. Using grilled ribs as the example, normally we wouldn’t make grilled ribs every day, once we want to make it, do we have to buy all the seasonings that the recipe requires? In this case, if we can provide people a set of seasoning which include 7 different small size plastic bags, people can just buy the set and put them into the modular container. Thus, people can make a delicious meal easier and without buying something that they would just use one time.

 

Furthermore, when 3D-printer become more and more popular, merchants can also sell the files of the container and people can buy the files and print them in home.

Makerscape- a new way to activate and promote our communities: Shared value in landscape and urban design

 

 

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Listening to introduction from social worker (Photo credits to Feifei)

This summer I joined a study aboard project called Invisible city. We went to Taipei and Tokyo to participate and understand how urban designers solve the existing issues of old communities. Taipei is facing a challenge – urban regeneration. Nevertheless, lacking financial support and preventing the old communities from gentrification, urban planners and other professions are seeking possible ways to reactivate old communities without tearing down old building. It was impressive to know that Taipei has created different type of “Maker space” to deal with different problems.

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The White Hut in Taipei

Programs like The White Hut are crucial method for professionals to invite residents to participate in their social events and attract the youth back to the old communities. It provides a series of service for diverse groups of people. For students, The White Hut offers short lectures and classes to teach students how to repair small furniture or electronic appliances (or at least let students know the basic process of how things get repaired); for homeless, it offers several free training classes which can help them to find a job; for residents, this is a chance to involve with community activities since many of them volunteer to contribute their knowledge. This is kind of self- sustained way for the regeneration of old communities. It also reminded me of P-patch in Seattle, which can be regarded as another type of “maker space”. The essential goal of these programs is using the underutilized areas, increasing social participation and activating surrounding or even larger area.

 

 

Makerscape can not only apply to old communities, but also lifeless communities in developed countries. This kind of community resulted from numerous urban planner apply the “orthodox” planning theory to cities without considering the characters of each site. Makerscape offers diverse service in one location which can encouramakerspace_ftd2ge residents to gather together. Besides, small enterprises such as hardware suppliers have the capacity to provide free tools and related lectures. In return, their service can cultivate well-trained workers for their companies. The strong connection among residents, retails and maker space activates the whole community. Thus, it creates a positive cycle- increasing participation encourages residents to build the confidence of neighborhood; increasing confidence enhances the willing to participate in social events and bring more consumption activities.

As a landscape designer, what we should do is to identify the social issues and offer creative solutions from design perspective. We also need to have systematic thinking and understand how do different factors and elements operate in the society.

Who should be blamed for the toxic haze in China? Starting to save the environment from changing small thing.

The toxic haze has become a more and more severe environmental problem in China throughout the past few years. It has become a hot topic and societal issue especially when it began to have a huge negative impact on the economy of Northern China and irreversibly damaged the environment.

125579191_21nPanic spread out among the public and a debate emerged – who should be responsible for the toxic haze. Lead by the public medium, people regard truck drivers as the “perpetrator”. Numerous TV shows and reports showed that a majority of those drivers’ vehicles don’t meet the Vehicle Emission Standards, meaning their exhaust emission are at least 30 times higher than normal vehicles. The facts, however, are much more complicated. First, 50% of truck drivers thought they purchased vehicles that passed the standards. To maximize profit, merchants ignored the related policy and laws and sold the shoddy vehicles to the drivers. Second, the government environmental departments provide favorable policies for transport companies to maintain low price of groceries in Beijing. These policies protect those companies from punishment (Even they use non-eco-friendly vehicles, they don’t get punished or pay the fines). Besides, there are plenty of other factors involved that result in the toxic haze including the energy structure, loose legal supervision system and inefficient economic system. The main issue with the energy structure is not the state-owned enterprise but the resident’s daily usage in rural areas. Using low-quality cores to support their electricity produces 70% of the exhaust emission that cause the toxic haze. Nevertheless, without the technical support and keeping residents informed about environmental protection, it’s impossible to require the residents of rural area to change their behaviors. Based on the complex reality, there are four basic strategies to solve the toxic haze: Technological progress, Economic transformation, Construction of regulations, and Social consciousness awakening.

 

Considering the factors that listed above, I suggest to start by seeking new sources of energy for rural areas.
For example, solar panels may be one choice. In Australia, many families have their own solar panel sy40be563cda09d35b7d92538ac02b1a2a_bstem which reduces the demand for traditional sources of electricity. This kind of domestic solar panel is easy to install and work stably. It might not apply easily to the Chinese rural area, at least it can provide a framework or work as the sample for solving the problem. In order to put it in practice, the government would need to promote the process by providing financial support for both enterprises and individuals. In addition, it is hard to persuade people to accept a new life style, and would keeping residents informed about environmental protection require a good “story teller”. You need to tell them the “story” in an acceptable way since they don’t care about the ecosystem or the whole economics system. When my father was working on the cultural restoration project, he faced the awkward situation that residents of rural area didn’t care about the incredible cultural value of their buildings. They just wanted to get rid of the old buildings to make room for new ones. In this case, explaining the benefits is the easiest way. What can they get from the new system? Will they have to pay anything? What economic benefits will they have?

 

We still have a long way to go to fix the environmental problems. Since we all live in a system, small changes will bring unimaginable impact to the future. Start changing the little things and never lose hope.