Forum speaker stresses creativity, innovation

Story by Thom Fountain

Posted at 7:45 a.m. 3/28/10

There’s been enough talking about the fight for environmentalism, and now it’s time to take action.

That’s the mantra of Natalie Jeremijenko, the latest speaker for UW-Eau Claire’s Forum. Jeremijenko, an associate professor of art at New York University, started the xDesign Environmental Health Clinic at NYU. The xDesign clinic works like an active clinic, but instead of curing physical ailments, the staff specializes in solving environmental health problems around the nation.

“The good news about…environmental health is that you can do something,” Jeremijenko said.

The clients of xDesign, called ‘impatients’ because they cannot wait for the lengthy process of legislation, bring issues of water pollution, air pollution and other harmful environmental problems to the clinic. Then, the clinicians work to solve the issues creatively while bringing the problem into public attention through the media and government.

An example Jeremijenko provided addressed the problem of urban air pollution below the tree line¬™ – right where a baby’s head is when in a stroller. Jeremijenko’s solution was a “No-park,” which is a small garden planted in the parking lane in city neighborhoods where there is already a no parking zone, such as in front of a fire hydrant. The garden would remove the carbon dioxide from the air below the treeline, providing a garden for growing produce. The garden would not disrupt any normal functions of the road or neighborhood.

Luke Desilet, a sophomore Chemistry major, said he liked the way Jeremijenko “reinvigorated creativity,” when addressing complex problems such as pollution.

“(Jeremijenko) provided an interesting perspective on environmentalism,” Desilet said. “I don’t want to sound clich√©, but it really is thinking outside the box.”

Much of Jeremijenko’s talk focused on collective thinking and problem solving. She stressed that people do not need to be scientists to think of innovative ways to bring about change in challenging issues.

Another example she provided fought to bring media attention to schools and playgrounds being built near toxic waste sites. The xDesign clinic collected hundreds of toy robotic dogs and modified them to function in rough terrain. They also replaced their noses with air quality sensors and marketed the program to schools across the nation. Jeremijenko and groups of students would go out with the dogs to “sniff” out pollution in these areas, which attracted media attention.

“We had five dogs, 10 students and seven TV crews, including Fox News,” Jeremijenko said regarding an event held in Southern California.

Roughly 200 students, faculty and community members attended the event, and Jeremijenko took questions afterward.

When asked about running into legislative and governmental roadblocks with her programs, Jeremijenko said she certainly has to fight, as we all do.

“It’s worth it,” she said.