Saving the world — in less than seven minutes

Stephanie Kinnunen of NEED magazine spoke before a slide show of photographs from the first two issues of the magazine.

Photo by Jeremy Stratton

Solutions Twin Cities gathers ideas and a crowd

“We are not out to save the world,” reads the cover of NEED magazine, “but to tell the stories of those who are.” The explanation could apply as well to Solutions Twin Cities, an organization created by Prospect Park resident Troy Gallas and co-founder Colin Kloecker in 2006.

With their first official event at the Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., the two local designers were interested in presenting and discussing a wide range of innovative ideas in design, art and architecture aimed at offering solutions to the problems that face modern society.

So, apparently, were others. “This is beyond anything we could have dreampt,” Gallas told the crowd of approximately 200 people that packed the theater for the May 2 forum, at which 13 presenters from a wide variety of disciplines and organizations took six minutes and 40 seconds each to share their work and missions.

The forum highlighted both local and global issues of food, shelter, health care, sustainability and more. Taken as a whole, the varied presentations pointed to commonalities between countries, cultures and communities, be they refugees camps in Kenya, Katrina survivors in New Orleans or the homeless on the streets of Minneapolis.

Stephanie Kinnunen spoke last about NEED magazine, which she premiered last winter with 128 pages of articles about and stunning photographs of assistance efforts across the world, including stories about Russian girls saved from the sex trade and the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee’s boat-building project to help fisherman get back to work after the tsunami in Thailand.

The second issue, released in May, includes the story of Cambodian women — many of them widowed by land mines — who have formed a de-mining group, and a profile of Mary Jo Copeland, whose organization Sharing and Caring Hands serves the homeless population in downtown Minneapolis.

In the same spirit of documenting local issues around the globe, photographer Andy Richter has turned his eye — or lens, that is — on problems and their solutions in Thailand, India, Venezuela and Africa, where he recently documented the impact of HIV/AIDS on communities along trucking routes in Africa.

Students from the University of Minnesota’s College of Design spoke about their own global project, Studio 4282, which addresses issues in slums around the world. Their work includes a recycling cart that gathers garbage and recycles it as pig feed; and The Clean Hub, a small, portable unit — a collapsible room with a composting toilet and solar panels that collects and filters water. The group will propose the unit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as an emergency shelter that could be shipped with food.

Greta Gladney from the Renaissance Project shared how she used The Clean Hub to support a farmer’s market/ethno-botanical garden on her otherwise unusable, Katrina-ravaged lot in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, where her family has lived for generations.

Alchemy Architects apply similar ideas to non-emergency housing with the weeHouse — a permanent structure smaller than a trailer home that can be delivered on the back of a semi trailer. The experiment in prefabricated construction makes use of that industry’s existing infrastructure to build the wee houses. (You can see a weeHouse atop Philips Garden, 2646 Cedar Ave. S; Alchemy installed one there in March.) Alchemy hopes to expand the concept into multiple-bedroom units or high-density developments that could serve as designer homes or poverty-level housing.

In perhaps the liveliest presentation of the evening, Corrie Zoll of RoofBloom — a collaboration between the Minnesota Green Roof Council and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District — built a sample of a green roof that can be built by the average Joe with common materials. Of the 250 gallons of water that might fall on a roof in a heavy rainstorm, a green roof catches 200, explained Zoll’s partner Chris Wegscheid, filtering the remaining 50 gallons as clean runoff.

Other local presenters included Cathy ten Broeke, Coordinator on Homelessness for Minneapolis and Hennepin County, who stood next to wall-sized projections of her own black-and-white photographs documenting homeless individuals in Minnesota as she cited statistics about homelessness and described the current effort by the city and county to solve the problem within the next decade. To learn more about Heading Home Hennepin, the city/county initiative to end homelessness, go to www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/homelessness.

Cassie Neu of Architecture for Humanity Minnesota (AFH MN) was one of two presenters to invoke the name of Cameron Sinclair, founder of Architecture for Humanity, who preaches that architecture and design can offer “solutions to global, social and humanitarian crises,” according to Neu’s introduction. (A group from Architecture for Humanity Iowa followed Neu.)

With projects in Minneapolis, New Orleans, the Congo and Sri Lanka, AFH MN makes the connection between local and global needs. The group of local architects, landscape architects, contractors and designers have collaborated on projects of various scales, from a drive to provide sleeping bags to designing a home for a woman displaced by Hurricane Katrina and a building medical center for refugees in Africa.

“It’s all about linking up and sharing ideas,” said Neu, who offered advice on how outreach efforts can succeed. “Find out why and how people exist,” she said. “Let [the service] be local … let it appropriate … let it be sustainable … creating a balance between what we build and what is meant to be.”

Ann Klefstad, editor of mnartists.org, outlined the organization and website that is a resource for 10,000 local artists and arts organizations, providing an online forum for them to present themselves and their work, “uncensored and un-juried,” said Klefstad, as well as find a wealth of other arts-related services.

Neil Cunningham and former City Council Member Lisa McDonald told the crowd how 108 people donated $150 each to form the Urban Earth Flower and Garden Co-op, which not only grows and sells plants but acts as a community gardening resource, with events, classes and a greenhouse that can be used — free of charge — for events, parties and clubs.

Joel Hodroff of Dual Currency Systems provided insight — and some unintended comic relief — with his fast-paced, frenetic slide show about changing the way we use money, such as applying the concept of loyalty rewards like frequent flyer miles to areas beyond consumer spending. An employee, for instance, could give blood and receive reward dollars that she could redeem towards a membership at the YWCA.

Christian Trifilio and Jacqui Belleau of the industrial design firm Worrell, Inc. have collaborated with FilmAid International to design a trailer with which the organization can show films to refugees in camps in Africa. FilmAid shows educational films as well as entertainment to an average crowd of 30,000 people. Worrell will design the first trailer, which can be hitched to any towing vehicle. More important, they will send plans with which local people can build the trailer for themselves.

Shannon Sandelands, of the Minneapolis nonprofit Give Us Wings, also stressed the importance of empowering individuals to control and sustain efforts and resources locally. Founded in 1998, Give Us Wings offers medical and educational services, training in organic farming and literacy, and more. Sandelands gave the example of a group of women who opened their homes to others who had none and, with the help of Give Us Wings, learned to farm and read, and ultimately purchased land on which they built 32 homes around an organic farm.

In addition to money, self-sustaining projects like this are necessary to solve social, economic and environmental problems, Sandelands implied. “I have seen projects that have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and failed because no one asked the community what they needed,” she said.

The message is best relayed through Sandelands’ story of how Give Us Wings got its name. In 1999, Elijah Omolo met in Kenya Mary Steiner Whelan, who would soon after found Give Us Wings. “It is nice that you give us a few shillings now and then,” said Omolo, now the Kenyan liaison for Give Us Wings, “but what we really need is access, information and education. We need people to give us wings.”

Gallas and Kloecker held another event called “Bowl like you give a…” at Memory lanes in Seward on May 11, and they hope to host another Solutions forum sometime this fall.

For more information about Solutions Twin Cities and the organizations at the event, visit www.solutionstwincities.org.

last revised: May 23, 2007