A Letter from Paris: Biology and the Evolution of the Smart City

Kelvin Muriuki

Kelvin Muriuki

Dear Foundation Friends:

My stay in Paris has been amazing. For aside from the multitudinous cultural pleasures of visiting Paris (my first time) I’ve been introduced to a radically different way of thinking — encouraged to stretch the applications of biological knowledge to fields that previously seemed incompatible with biology — in this case, to the evolution of urban design.

In our Biology and the Evolution of the Smart City summer study program, we attend class daily, and every one of our lectures has two components: a biology section, and another in urban planning and design.

The biology component explores biological principles and their urban parallels. In particular, we’ve discussed is transport in living things, paying particular focus on transport of oxygen in human beings, birds, and fish. We explored the complex systems that helps these organisms effect this transport, the differences between these systems, the impact these differences have on their oxygen transport efficiency, and the inspiration we could draw from the design of these systems while addressing transport challenges in major cities especially congestion, efficiency, and crime.

The urban planning and design component discusses the different approaches urban planners have taken in designing and redesigning cities, explores the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches, and exposes us to the new ideas that are attempting to revolutionize urban planning especially ones inspired by biology.

From all this, I’ve learned one very interesting lesson: the solutions to the most intricate problems facing cities already exist — not in urban planning and design manuals, but in nature, as complex living things have faced and solved the same problems experienced by cities.

One particularly fun part of our program is that we get to design our own projects and pitch them to the mayor of Paris before we depart. My teammates and I have decided to focus on waste — especially the recycling component of waste management which remains a big problem in Paris. From our research we realized that of all the potentially recyclable waste in Paris, only 35% is actually recycled. This falls below the recommended recycling percentage of 50% proposed by the UN for all EU countries. Also, the 65% that’s not recycled is dumped in different disposal sites outside the city where it’s either incinerated creating pollution problems or left to form ugly landfills. We also realized that the recycling goal remained elusive largely because a recycling culture hadn’t been cultivated in many Parisians who considered recycling an extra chore/burden on their already overwhelming plate. Waste is largely seen as ugly, annoying, and cumbersome to handle thus many prefer to leave the waste management burden to the government and forget that waste ever existed.

Our project aims to reverse this perception by presenting waste as a tool for fostering artistic creativity, fostering intercultural collaboration, and having fun. To ensure maximum impact, we are targeting the young specifically those in middle school and high school since they will more readily take up new ideas and are more willing to experiment, hoping these then will be our ambassadors and spread these ideas to the elderly. We are working on a new school curriculum meant to reinvent sustainability education. In this curriculum, students will be encouraged to engage more with waste by researching on and writing about existing waste management infrastructure in their region. The goal is to make waste a subject that’s more present and readily discussed rather than one easily ignored.

The curriculum will emphasize fieldwork where students visit the different waste disposal sites and learn of existing waste management practices, constantly engage with their local government department dealing with waste to understand existing policies, and engage with local community members to understand how they deal with trash at the local level. Students will also be encouraged to create art from disposed/disposable material and share their art with students in other school. To enable us realize this goal, we are working on an online platform which will: help consolidate existing material on sustainability-art synergy, enable artists exploring this field to constantly upload/share their work with the students, and enable students share their artistic
recycling ideas and upload their waste-art projects for other students to see and derive
inspiration from.

The biological principle that inspired this project was the nitrogen cycle, where nitrogen undergoes different transformative processes at different stages, converting to a useful products at each stage that benefits the ecosystem. Similarly we wish to transform different waste products into useful byproducts and then share the knowledge with others so that they can also create useful products from stuff that seems useless. It’s all about thinking forward, and I’m tremendously thankful for this opportunity to explore new regions where the sciences and humanities interact.

Editor’s Note These experiences are made possible entirely through your generosity. Please give generously!



A Letter from Rwanda: Bio-Med and the Emerging World

Dear Foundation Friends,

I’m sorry I have not been able to reach out yet during my time in Rwanda, but my access to internet has been severely limited, especially now that I am working in a rural hospital in a small village. Luckily, I am in Kigali (the Rwandan capital) for the weekend and I found an internet café to check e-mail. I apologize that I won’t be able to send you many pictures until I get back to the United States because the internet connection is simply not strong enough to send such large e-mails.

Teresa Oszkinis

Teresa Oszkinis

I am having a wonderful time here. During the month of June, I was studying at the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Center (IPRC), the largest technical training school in Rwanda. In the mornings, we would have either French or Kinyarwanda lessons. French was the colonial language under Belgian rule, which is why it is spoken by many of the older people in Rwanda. Kinyarwanda is the local language spoken throughout Rwanda and has proven to be much more useful than French. After lunch, we would have lessons on medical instrumentation in the developing world, reviewing the equipment that we would likely see and learning basic repairs. This would be followed by laboratory, where we would build various devices from a simple flashlight to a variable rectifier in order to gain practice with electronics.

During this time, I was staying in a homestay right on campus. My host mom Christine was very sweet and made us feel like a part of the family. Christine is a professor of chemistry and environmental science on campus. We also lived with her daughter, two sisters, a cousin, and the domestic worker. Living in a homestay was an incredible opportunity to practice our Kinyarwanda language skills and learn about Rwandan culture. We also got to experience a typical Rwandan diet, which includes rice, potatoes, cooked plantains, beans, cassava leaves, avocado and corn. Rwanda also has amazing fruit, including pineapple, passion fruit, tree tomato, and mango.

After four weeks of intensive training, our larger group of sixteen was broken into pairs and sent to hospitals throughout the country. I am currently in Byumba, the capital of the Gicumbi district in the Northern Province. It is a small rural village, but it is absolutely beautiful. Rwanda is known as the country of 1,000 hills and nowhere is this more appropriate than Byumba.

Rwandacountryside

The Rwandan Countryside

 

There are lush green terraced hills for as far as the eye can see. Foreigners are a very rare occurrence here so whenever my partner and I walk down the street, we tend to be the center of attention. People are very friendly and delighted to see us wherever we go. The children especially are adorable and run up to us to hug us and hold our hands.

The hospital in which I work is the Byumba District Hospital. My partner and I work with one other biomedical engineering technician and an electrical technician. They are both very nice and helpful with introducing us around the hospital. Despite its size and the number of people it serves, the hospital is very simple and does not have much sophisticated medical equipment.

A broken concentrator waiting for repair.

A broken concentrator waiting for repair.

Most of the equipment that we have been working on so far have been oxygen concentrators (the hospital cannot even afford oxygen cylinders or ventilators). Department heads from throughout the hospital keep giving us ancient equipment out of closets that have been broken for years and without which they have been forced to manage. It is an exciting feeling knowing that we can help to bring this equipment back into service. One of the most astonishing aspects of my work so far has been how difficult it is to acquire even simple consumables needed for repair, like replacement bulbs or batteries.

I have also taken advantage of my free time on the weekends to travel throughout Rwanda. I have visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Nyamata Memorial Church where 10,000 people were killed during the genocide, a unity and reconciliation village where genocide perpetrators and victims live side by side, Nyungwe rain forest in the Eastern Province, the holy pilgrimage site of Kibeho where there were apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the years before the genocide, and Gisenyi, a beautiful town on the shores of Lake Kivu. I even had the opportunity to attend a speech by the president of Rwanda!

I cannot believe how fast the time has flown. I am saddened to think that I only have three more weeks in this beautiful country. I hope that I can make the most of my time here and have a lasting impact on this hospital. I am so grateful to you and the entire FDR foundation for making this possible. I have made amazing memories that I will back on fondly for the rest of my life. I cannot thank you all enough!

Editor’s Note  These experiences are made possible entirely through your generosity. Please give generously




70 Years Ago Today

1945 last photoAt 1 PM on April 12, 70 years ago this afternoon, a tired and worn FDR sat in the living room of his Warm Springs, Georgia cottage, surrounded by friends and family. As he signed letters and documents, Elizabeth Shoumatoff, the artist who had early taken what would turn out to be the last ever photograph of FDR (left)  stood painting his portrait at an easel nearby. The conversation was lively, the atmosphere congenial. The president turned to Shoumatoff and reminded her that they had only fifteen minutes left in the session. Suddenly, he grabbed his head complaining of a sharp pain. The president had suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage that would end his life in minutes. America’s longest serving president — the man who led the nation through the Great Depression and World War II — was dead.

1945 dead“Take a look at our present world. It is manifestly not Adolf Hitler’s world. The Thousand Year Reich had a ghastly run of a dozen years. Nor is it the world of Lenin and Stalin. The Communist dream turned out to be a political, economic, and moral nightmare. Nor is it Churchill’s world. He was a great war leader, but he was the son of empire, and empires have faded into oblivion. Our world today is Roosevelt’s world.”

Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Adams House ‘38

As we enjoy this Sunday afternoon, let us take a moment to give thanks to a man who gave his life in crafting the freedoms and privileges we enjoy today.

2015 Franklin Delano Roosevelt Global Fellows Announced

Adams House and the FDR Foundation are delighted to announce the 2015 FDR Global Fellows:

Photo Teresa OszkinisTeresa Oszkinis ’16 of Leverett House and West Islip, New York, will be traveling to Rwanda to participate in the Engineering World Health Summer Institute, a unique program that will allow her to combine her passions for biomedical engineering and global health. According to a 2013 article in the Atlantic Monthly, “Across Sub-Saharan Africa, ‘medical device graveyards’ litter the empty closets and spare corners of hospitals. The World Health Organization estimates that ‘a large proportion (up to 70 percent) of equipment lies idle’ — without anyone to maintain or repair it. Teresa’s summer program directly addresses this urgent need. As part of the Summer Institute, Teresa will live with a local Rwandan family while receiving language training as well as gaining hands-on experience working in hospitals and clinics with scarce resources. Afterwards, she will be assigned to a local hospital or clinic to put her training to use in repairing the medical equipment needed to support critical health care in Rwanda.

A junior concentrating in biomedical engineering with a secondary in global health and health policy, Teresa serves as president of Students Taking on Poverty, is a board member for the Foundation for the International Medical Relief of Children, volunteers at a local homeless shelter and manages to find time to row for the Varsity Crew — all the while maintaining a near perfect GPA. As a Pre-Med student with a strong interest in global health and social medicine, Teresa is passionate about promoting health as a human right and addressing the root causes of the health disparities that plague our modern world.

Teresa’s program was chosen by the Fellowship Advisory Board for a 7K award as it perfectly corresponds to FDR’s firm belief that “that the only way to have a friend is to be one,” and completes our preference for proposals that not only provide an educational experience for the participant, but also produce some “quantifiable public good.” Additionally, Teresa will be named the 2015 Lillian Goldman scholar in recognition of her work towards the advancement of women’s causes globally.

10608667_457119597760087_678465885947990184_oKelvin Muriuki ’17 of Leverett House and Nyeri, Kenya, will be traveling to Paris this summer to investigate how the principles of biological evolution can help understand and solve the problems that plague modern-day cities. During his 8-week intensive Harvard Summer School Program, Kelvin will explore evolutionary parallels between major urban centers and human beings with an eye to designing specific projects that not only improve the quality of life in urban centers but also engage urban residents in comprehensively understanding and actively solving the issues that affect their cities.

A sophomore concentrating in Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, Kelvin is passionate about genetics, specifically its application in the understanding and treatment of non-communicable diseases like cancer which exert a heavy death toll in his native Kenya, and often go ignored. He is also fascinated by cities, their development, the complex web of social relations they foster, and the lifestyle changes they command. Having spent a significant part of his life in Nairobi, Kelvin particularly identifies with the problems and health consequences that urbanization necessarily produces. Kelvin has served both as a college counselor and a teacher for high school students in Kenya, and plans to pursue an MD-PhD after graduation with an eye to a career in the bio-tech industry.

Kelvin’s proposal was chosen for a 5K award because the Fellowship Advisory Board strongly feels that all too often today’s students are locked into pre-professional programs that limit their knowledge base to prescribed courses and methods of thinking. This unique program of evolutionary science and urban planning immediately urges students to think outside the box, and dovetails with our belief that the widest possible skill set — embracing both the humanities and sciences — will be required to solve the problems of the 21st century.

 

Here, There and Back Again: A Tale of A Sign

A couple months ago, I received a call from a very courteous gentlemen in Santa Fe, inquiring whether or not I might want to buy an old, wooden sign. But not just any sign: An old “Adams House sign,” the caller said. “It dates to about the time of the Civil War, and originally came from Boston.” Oh, my ears perked up immediately, as I had once seen a faded old letter in the House archives a few years back…now if I could just remember the specifics…  But perhaps I should tell you the story from the beginning.

You see, before there was Adams House, there was the Adams House, one of Boston’s earliest luxury hotels. Opened in 1846 on the Washington-Street site of the historic Lamb Tavern, The Adams House Hotel possessed a stern Federal stone facade — and, critical to our story —  a large wooden sign above the main entrance. Later expanded with an annex in the 1850s (which still stands on Washington Street) the original structure was replaced with a much larger Victorian edifice in 1883 (now demolished).

The original 1846 Adams House Hotel on Washington Street, Boston.  (Courtesy: Boston Atheneum)

The original 1846 Adams House Hotel on Washington Street, Boston. Click to enlarge. The sign pictured above may be the very one we acquired.  (Courtesy: Boston Atheneum)

In 1889, King’s Hand-Book of Boston noted that the Adams House was “one of the finest and best-equipped hotels in the city, of which its dining-rooms and café are … conspicuous features.”

The Victorian iteration. The Adams Hotel is the large whitish building to the left; the 1850s annex is immediately to the right

The Victorian iteration. The Adams Hotel is the large whitish building to the left; the 1850s annex is immediately to the right

By the early 1900s, however, the Adams House clientele began to change, with short-term guests ceding way to local politicians and businessmen looking to secure cheap extended lodging near the Statehouse. Calvin Coolidge, notorious for his frugality, took a room at the Adams House for $1 per day in 1906 as a new member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. In an unusual display of extravagance a day after being elected governor in 1919, he expanded his digs at the Adams House to a two-room suite with bath on the third floor for $3.50 per diem. Coolidge was at the Adams House when he received the telephone call informing him of his nomination as Warren G. Harding’s vice presidential running mate in 1920.

The Adams House Hotel fell victim to declining revenues during Prohibition (deprived of the income from all those hard-drinking politicians and newsmen) and was closed in 1927. The main building was demolished in 1931. In 1930, Harvard, anxious to name one of its new Houses after the Adams family, acquired the name and goodwill from the bankrupt establishment as a legal precaution. That signed contract was the document I had remembered from the archives all those years ago, addressed to Professor James Baxter, who would shortly become the first Master of the new Adams House:

cover letter

contract-1So of course I was interested in the sign!

Pictures and descriptions flew back and forth as price negotiations got underway.

The sign as seen in Santa Fe.

The sign as seen in Santa Fe. Somewhere along the way, it was cut in two.

Based on typography and construction, the sign almost certainly dates from the 1846 iteration of the Adams House Hotel. (Whether it’s the sign you can see in the 1848 lithograph above we don’t know, but it looks almost identical, and the size and scale are an excellent match. The only real difference is that the sign in the illustration has raised capitals, but that might be artistic license. Regardless, this particular lettering style fell from fashion after the Civil War, so the sign most likely predates the 1882 Victorian incarnation.) The 18″ letters are gilt with paint, hand-carved into a single pine plank 2” thick, 2′ wide, and 16’ long, which weighs close to 80 pounds! The entire black background was then hand-chiseled to produce a rippled effect (click the picture below to enlarge). This was not an inexpensive sign, then or now. Though the exact provenance can’t be proven, a reasonable guess would be that the original hotel sign was retained as a showpiece when the first structure was demolished in 1882, and then later dispersed with the goods of the hotel during bankruptcy in the 30s. By the 1950s, the sign was documented in the hands of a Boston antiques dealer, who sold it to the mother of my caller, who also owned an antique shop — in fact, she named the business Adams House Antiques, where the sign remained over her Santa Fe door until she decided to retire this past year.

Long story short: a mutual price was agreed, the item shipped, and then I took a month or so to gently restore the sign, mending it back into its original single piece frame. Given its age, the sign’s condition is remarkable, no doubt due in part to the many decades spent in the humidity-free desert Southwest.

Here’s how it looks hanging in the Gold Room entrance to the dining hall:

signinsitu

The restored sign hanging in the Gold Room. Click to enlarge the image in order to see the fine chiseled detail.

So, a small piece of the first Adams House returns to its legal successor, the second Adams House, after one hundred-seventy years. A neat bit of cyclical history, don’t you think?

 


Some people read history, others make it. Support the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation!

 

Sending the Elevator Back Down

The other day while randomly flicking through channels, I caught a glimpse of an interview with Kevin Spacey. He’d been asked a question about why he spends so much free time working with young actors. His answer was remarkable. Quoting mentor Jack Lemmon ’47, Spacey said: “I believe that if you have been successful in the business you wanted to be successful in, and if you have achieved a lot of the dreams you’ve dreamed… it’s your obligation… to send the elevator back down.”

Sending the elevator back down.

For years, I’ve been looking for a simple way to describe the work we do at the Foundation. It’s various and variable, covering fields as diverse as historic preservation (through the Suite Museum and Collections); educational programming & scholarships (through our Global Citizenship programs); or real-world research (through the FDR Center for Global Engagement) to find practical solutions to the daunting challenges we face as a nation and a globe to successfully transit the 21st century. But I couldn’t have found a better phrase than this: Sending the elevator back down.

That’s what we do. Plain and simple. We — in this case, I, a dedicated group of alumni, our House Masters, our affiliated faculty, you, our supporters — we all attempt to take some of the incredible good fortune we’ve experienced and pass that forward.

But to continue, we need your help. Over the last year, we have nearly doubled our historic preservation efforts, educational programming, and scholarships due to exceptional demand. Requests to tour the Suite now come almost weekly; our student seminars have expanded in number from one to twelve; our Global Fellowship summer study grants from one to three. We’ve launched an entirely new endeavor, a non-partisan think-tank, the FDR Center for Global Engagement. Yet individual contributions supporting these efforts have fallen off. A common perception is that we receive substantial funds from the University or from major corporate sponsors. We don’t. We do all this solely through the contributions of dedicated volunteers and the generosity of people like you.

Now, I’d like to ask you to consider helping our efforts. (Or, if you already have in the past, to do so again.) There are many easy ways to do this, from sustaining monthly gifts via credit card, to direct donation of money, of airline frequent flyer miles, of stocks, bonds, or securities. We’re a registered 501(c)3, which means for US residents, your contributions are tax deductible. You may donate in someone’s name, from a private foundation, or anonymously. Simply email me a michael.weishan at fdrfoundation dot org and we’ll walk you through the process.

I know you receive appeals from many quarters. But we like to think that this very special place, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation, nestled in the best of all the houses, Adams, in the bosom of the world’s top university, Harvard, is in a unique position to utilize the legacy of one of our greatest presidents to better all our futures. We here have done our best to send that elevator back down. Please help us ensure that the next car up is packed to capacity.

With warmest wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Michael

 





Harvard-Yale, and A Bit of the Past Returned

First of all, on behalf of Masters Palfrey and the Foundation, it was wonderful to greet the 250 plus of you who returned to Adams after the game. I am proud to note that our potent 1878 Harvard Punch withstood the onslaught (just!) with the last few drops warming the cockles of the final visitors around 6 PM.  Since we began this tradition in 2010 with 40 odd guests, the celebration has grown to be one of the largest, if not the largest, alumni post-game celebrations at Harvard-Yale, and I think it truly represents the warm affinity we feel for a special place called Adams.

Before the glow entirely passes however, I just wanted to share with you a wonderful photo. As part of our FDR Suite collections, we recently acquired a 1900 silk Harvard Football flag. This ingenious invention looks like a brass-tipped wand when not in use. To unfurl, you pull the flag staff out of the tube, reverse, attach the staff to the base, and unwind the flag. Presto!
footballflagThis flag belonged to a contemporary of FDR and was purchased from an estate in Maine; as far as we know this is the first time it has returned to Harvard stadium in 112 years. The old girl is a bit faded, but her silk is still supple in the wind; without a doubt, it was the oldest banner flying that day.

Thanks to Santiago Pardo ’15, (flag bearer) Megan Corrigan ’16 & Lisa Wang ’16 (wavers) and Amna Hashmi ’16 (photo) for helping bring a bit of Harvard history back to life.

(PS: We think this is a product whose day has come again, and we’d like to put these flags back into manufacture. The staff and flag are easily replicated, but the brass-tipped tube (made of some sort of pressed material such as thick cardboard) is unique. If any of you have thoughts on how that might be accomplished, i.e. finding a maker, or, would be interested in underwriting some of the costs, etc. I’d like to hear from you. )

Views From the Embassy: The Role of U.S. Diplomats in France, 1914.

Dr. Lindsay Krasnoff from the State Department Historian’s office will be at Adams House this coming MONDAY, November 24th. 1-2pm, in the Conservatory presenting “Views From the Embassy: The Role of U.S. Diplomats in France, 1914.”

“The story is fascinating and… intertwines a lot of U.S. social history of the era. Many of the men at U.S. Embassy France in 1914 were Harvard graduates” including Teddy Roosevelt’s cousin Nick Roosevelt and classmate Robert Bacon.

Join us!