TEDx Seattle — Two 2017 Topics with Opportunities for Action

Like a great flea market, you never really know from where or if the inspiration will come. I’ve attended TEDx Seattle for six years and spent most of those 9-hour Saturdays with my jaw agape and my mind scrambling to catch up. TEDx is reliably a mentally expansive experience, though TED Saturdays can run the gamut between warm and fuzzy and fireworks. I’ll admit it. I love fireworks.

TEDx Seattle 2017 exploded across the hours, with speaker after speaker addressing momentous causes, topics, and projects. The theme of Changing Places, which the program stated as meaning changing places as in transforming environments. Taken another way, it calls on us to virtually change places with others on the planet so that we can better understand their lives, their struggles, and their goals. Not surprisingly, TEDx Seattle 2017 spoke broadly and specifically about the human condition. Two topics specifically connected to aspects of suffering, each one with far-reaching consequences and opportunities for personal action.

cience as Slave Instead of Savior — Jennifer Hansen’s talk on the methods by which scientists and researchers “get the word out” was a case of “who knew?” I am an active researcher, using a variety of resources every day in order to get reliable data and explanations for articles on Medium and other websites. As outlined by Jennifer, I run up against paywalls with annoying frequency. Eye roll! As important as I believe my work to be, no one will die if it doesn’t get done or if an interesting source is too expensive.

However, for countries in a medical crisis, like Liberia in 2014, as a dangerous epidemic began to claim hundreds of lives, that paywall rings like a death knell. It took doctors three months to identify the raging illness as Ebola. Why? Because the research that warned of this possibility over 30 years previously was only available for a payment of $45. How many doctors in Liberia have a spare $45? None. Liberia is a very poor country. Research that well might have saved thousands of lives and prevented the spread of Ebola to six other countries, was available if you had the money.

Ms. Hansen’s main points are that 1. public funds are used for much of the research that is done in the US, that 2. not having access to what we pay for is ludicrous. and that 3. 75% of that publicly-funded research is hidden behind a paywall. The time consuming, secretive, and monetized world of publishing science and research needs to change she argues. Lives are actually at stake! TAKE ACTION: Check with the libraries, colleges, and universities in your area and find out how much open access material is available and how to connect to it.

House Can Be a Home — It was goosebumpy to see Rex Hohlbein and Jenn LaFreniere, both architects, come on stage and then to realize that they were father and daughter. In a reprise and extension of a 2014 TEDx Seattle presentation, this committed duo has applied two creative minds to the issue of homelessness and specifically to how King County can bring innovation and real resolution to the problem. King County, Washington, the county which comprises Seattle and its outer reaches, has 12,000 homeless, a huge number for a city that size.

As a background for the possibility that homelessness is a problem waiting for a solution rather than an insoluble conundrum, Rex reminded the audience that not too long ago, in 1963, beautiful Lake Washington became known as Lake Stinko. No one could swim in its then murky waters without risking heavy doses of contaminants and sewage. Yet, 12 years after the scientists, the city, and engineers collaborated on a solution, the waters were clean, and so they have remained.

Hohlbein and LaFreniere proposed a similar collaboration to bring homelessness to an end in Seattle. This time, it would be neighbors, the city, social services, and volunteers. They call it The Block Project.

It starts with a “Yes”, that is written agreement from every resident in a square city block that they would be willing to welcome one homeless resident and to work to include that person in the community. With agreement from all the neighbors would come the construction of a tiny home, small enough to fit in a homeowner’s backyard and large enough to provide comfort and all the essentials.

Built to code, the 125 square foot tiny homes would consist of a kitchen area, bathroom, bedroom, storage, and a front porch on which the resident could sit and enjoy visiting with neighbors of watching the clouds roll by. Each little house would qualify as a Living Building, one that has solar power, manages wastewater on site, and maintains a super tiny ecological footprint.

In fact, the first home has been built on Beacon Hill and now houses Bobby, a First Nation’s Cree gentleman who was homeless for several years. Bobby lives alone, but he also lives with resources and a complete support team, people able to deal with psychological, health, and social issues. Another team of volunteers has contributed mightily to Bobby’s current home by donating electrical work, carpentry, labor, dozens of other essential jobs, and materials.

Seattle is a city of blocks, many of them lined with as many as 20 homes. A full square block, such as those I surveyed in the View Ridge neighborhood, may have forty homes, many with substantial backyards. Where those 40 neighbors can agree, a tiny homeless home can be constructed. Rex and his daughter envision a time when a tiny, extra home occupies every possible city block, and where the people who are homeless stop being a problem and become part of the community. TAKE ACTION: Contact The Block Project to see how and where you can help in Seattle. For outlanders, those beyond the lakes and mountains of Washington state, find out who is truly working to eradicate homelessness in your area and volunteer.

Writer, ESL instructor, editor, traveler, seasonal ex-pat— my life is both an intentional and serendipitous circumstance. Motto — “Buy the ticket, and go!”

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