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As we head into an election year, the state of American education will be a hot topic of conversation on and off the campaign trail. Since 2009, our GOOD Ideas for Cities initiative has included an important component where we bring the program into schools, working with students to help them solve problems in their own communities. What we’ve heard is an overwhelming response from both students and teachers who want to work with real-world challenges. We’re hoping through our programs that we can connect these students with the urban leaders who can help make their ideas a reality.

In 2011, we brought our program to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Thanks to professors Phil Hamlett and Tom Sieu, students in both the graduate and undergraduate programs at AAU’s School of Graphic Design were able to participate in the 10-week program. Students ventured out into the streets of San Francisco to isolate the most pressing issues facing the city. Working with several advisors, including GOOD Ideas for Cities editor Alissa Walker, GOOD co-founder Casey Caplowe, and previous GOOD Design speaker Brian Singer, the students crafted solutions to their urban challenges. The students presented their solutions at a special event hosted by Alissa Walker at The Hub SoMa.

Some of the solutions began by examining everyday frustrations. Like what do all those numbers on the bottom of plastic bottles mean anyway? Project Zero Waste by Anh Pham, Caroline Saridewi and Elliott Tran, hoped to tackle the confusing world of recycling and composting to make San Francisco the first zero-waste city. Instead of numbers, bins would be coded by easy-to-remember colored shapes. Trashcans would become landmarks in the city where people can collect points by putting the right bottle or can in the correct slot, curbing litter and hopefully making the world of recycling more understandable. A very simple concept but one that we could definitely see a city like San Francisco embrace.

A gaming concept was central to Project Firefly by Paulina Mcfarland, Yun Lin and Stephanie Shelar, who wanted to examine the possibility of harnessing San Francisco’s people-generated energy to power the city. Piezo-electric systems are already being used to capture human movement from places like nightclubs and gyms, the team argued, but how to make San Franciscans participate in the idea of generating energy together? They propose a range of solutions from a “Firefly” device that tracks energy output like a pedometer, to a series of “energy smackdowns” staged between neighborhoods to see who can generate the most power. The competition factor paired with the novelty of, say, dancing all night in service of their city could definitely motivate citizens to get moving.

Firefly San Francisco from Stephanie Shelar on Vimeo.

Other solutions tackled policy and government. The Greenhouse Cartel, by Astra Sodarsono took an incredibly spirited look at two major issues facing California: the budget crisis and the legalization of marijuana. Looking at the numbers, it wasn’t difficult for Sodarsono to link the two issues: Proposed figures from cultivating the marijuana industry would significantly bolster California’s economy. But not just in some stoner-chic kind of way: Sodarsono looked closely at other industries that had helped the state and noticed that the wine industry had provided a needed boost, yet wasn’t initially embraced by local residents. He proposed marketing the culture of marijuana, from packaging to tourism, much in the way that wine had been introduced to the state. The resulting work is a rather thoughtful campaign for what could be an agricultural boon for the state.

Other solutions include The Green Spot Initiative which encourages residents to bring their ideas to the city’s vacant and underdeveloped lots; an Urban Energy Center, an education center that hopes to inspire residents to reverse the effects of the Bay Area’s infamous “toxic triangle”; the Urban Furnishing Project, which proposes a street team that gathers, reclaims and resells the abandoned furniture that covers San Francisco’s streets; and Urban Runoff, with some innovative solutions for filtering rainwater back into the ground to prevent marine pollution. Thanks to everyone at the Academy of Art, including Phil Hamlett and Tom Sieu, as well as additional support from Williams & House, The Living Principles for Design, and Sappi Ideas That Matter.

In 2012, we’ll be bringing the GOOD Ideas for Cities initiative to more schools. Coming up next, we’re very excited to announce a partnership with the graphic design department at Portland State University, thanks to Nicole Lavelle and Kate Bingaman-Burt. After kicking off the program at our February 16 event, the students will work on their urban solutions, presenting them at a second event in March. Looking ahead, we’re also organizing an event with Parsons The New School for Design, thanks to professor Denise Ramzy.

As we kick off the new year, we’re thrilled to announce the six teams that will be participating in our upcoming Portland event on February 12, and will be announcing the urban challenges very soon. For our St. Louis event, we’re working on choosing both the creative teams and the urban leaders who will be representing that city on March 8. Stay tuned for all event details, plus the announcements of our next three cities.

If you want to know more about what we’re doing here at GOOD Ideas for Cities, we’d love to see you following us over at @IdeasforCities. And if you’ve got ideas for bringing GOOD Ideas for Cities to a city or school near you, contact alissaATgoodincDOTcom.

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