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2015 Countdown #4: How a Dyslexic Neuroscientist’s iPad App Will Boost Your Kid’s Math Scores

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The number 4 milestone in our Impact Design Countdown to 2015 with TakePart features nonprofit MIND Research Institute, which is demonstrating an effective program for bringing technology into the classroom.

On a recent weekday morning, a six-year-old girl with brown pigtails stared at an iPad perched on the desk in front of her. As she studied the screen, she squinted her eyes, and her brow furrowed into a pair of delicate question marks. A minute ticked by. She was still perplexed. Then suddenly, the iPad emitted a soft, triumphant-sounding ping, and her face lit up.

The girl had successfully solved a mathematical puzzle in the educational software program ST Math. At adjacent desks, her first-grade classmates at Jack L. Weaver Elementary School, in Los Alamitos, Calif., were grappling with their own ST Math challenges. The room was silent, with no hint that the morning recess was just 15 minutes away. “They could do this all day,” the teacher, Kathi Ruziecki, whispered. More

2015 Countdown #5: Why Little Free Libraries Are the Water Coolers of the Digital Age

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The number 5 milestone in our Impact Design Countdown to 2015 with TakePart features the popular, homemade ‘give a book, take a book’ boxes that are bringing neighbors together around reading.

There’s one in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood cut in the shape of a local stray cat, complete with jet-black fur, snow-white whiskers, and canary-yellow eyes. Another, in Houston, is an 8-foot-tall magenta robot that could pass as a close cousin of the Iron Giant. A third, in the Atlanta suburbs, is patterned after a pre–Great Depression movie house, art deco marquee and all.

Whatever size or shape Little Free Libraries—hand-built wooden book boxes placed on street corners or in public parks—take, one thing about them is constant: Their global popularity is booming. In an era of Kindles, shuttered public libraries, and Amazon algorithms that tell us what books we should purchase, more than 18,000 LFLs can be found in 70 countries. About 1,000 new LFLs are opening up worldwide every month. More

2015 Countdown #6: When Disaster Strikes, This May Be the Most Crucial Aid of All

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The number 6 milestone in our Impact Design Countdown to 2015 with TakePart features NetHope, a group of relief organizations that have banded together to rebuild destroyed communications systems so food and medicine can get where they’re needed most.

While most aid groups were trying to figure out where to send water, food, medical supplies, or tents after Typhoon Haiyan left devastation across multiple islands in the Philippines last November, Gisli Olafsson was looking for places to set up satellite dishes.

That may seem like something that should be low on the list of needs in the immediate aftermath of the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall, but, say those with experience in disaster response, relief organizations can’t effectively deploy their resources until communication has been restored. Olafsson is emergency response director of NetHope, a group that partners with the private sector to deliver information and communications technology to the developing world. After Haiyan, his job was to assess and replace, as quickly as possible, the region’s utterly demolished communications systems. More

2015 Countdown #7: Want Healthier Students Who Love to Read? Ditch Those Desks for Bikes

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The number 7 milestone in our Impact Design Countdown to 2015 with TakePart features North Carolina’s ‘Read and Ride’ program that combines exercise with reading.

If you’ve ever taken a ride on that health club staple the stationary bike, chances are you took a book or magazine along to peruse while working up a sweat. It turns out students at Ward Elementary School in Winston-Salem, N.C., are doing the same. The school’s pioneering Read and Ride program lets students get exercise while they read.

School counselor Scott Ertl launched the innovative program in 2009. The health-minded educator asked friends and community members to donate their exercise bikes to the project, and the school received enough bikes to fill a whole classroom. More

2015 Countdown #8: With This Bio-Reactive Food Label, Sell-by Dates Could Become Obsolete

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The number 8 milestone in our Impact Design Countdown to 2015 with TakePart features the innovative ‘Bump Mark’ that allows consumers to determine a product’s freshness by touch and reduce rampant food waste.

Every milk carton, package of meat, and hunk of cheese comes with a sell-by date stamped on it. Most people take that date as gospel—one day past it, and it’s time to chuck that item in the trash. Such fidelity is partly responsible for our rampant food waste: Americans throw nearly half their food in the garbage, an astonishing $165 billion worth per year.

Despite what those sell-by stamps say, food is often edible for much longer. That’s where a new patent-pending bio-reactive food label from Solveiga Pakstatite, a student at Brunel University in the U.K., could help. Her innovative Bump Mark label is filled with a solid, set form of gelatin. When the label is smooth, the food is fresh. When you start to feel bumps, that’s a sure sign that eating what’s in the package could make you sick. More

2015 Countdown #9: A Twist on Floor Tiles Gives ‘Power Walking’ New Meaning

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The number 9 milestone in our Impact Design Countdown to 2015 with TakePart features renewable energy-generating floor tiles created by UK company Pavegen Systems, first developed by industrial design graduate student Laurence Kemball-Cook.

Each day for the last six months, approximately 5,000 people passed through the turnstiles of the Saint-Omer subway station in northern France. Chances are good that the vast majority of them were so focused on the minutiae of their daily lives—Respond to the boss’ email now from my smartphone or from my computer when I get to the office? Un café express or un noir at the corner coffee cart?—that they didn’t realize that by putting one foot in front of the other they were serving the greater good by producing clean, renewable energy.

In March, 14 flooring tiles from London-based clean-tech company Pavegen Systems were installed at the mass-transit depot. The tiles, each roughly 7 by 24 inches, generate renewable electricity from the otherwise wasted energy of footsteps. More

2015 Countdown #10: A Rooftop Garden Grows in Brooklyn

The number 10 milestone in our Impact Design Countdown to 2015 with TakePart features a video of Brooklyn Grange‘s Navy Yard Farm, the largest rooftop garden in the world set to produce over 50,000 pounds of organically-grown vegetables each year. Along with urban farming, Brooklyn Grange runs educational and training programs, one of which is done in partnership with Refugee and Immigrant Fund.

New York City may be buried in snow today, but for a good half of the year there’s enough warmth, sun, and rain to grow any number of crops. Of course, the problem in the densely populated city, in living as in farming, is space.

That is why the urban ag crowd in Brooklyn have taken to the rooftops, specifically 65,000 square feet above the Brooklyn Navy Yard—the rooftop garden in the world. In this mesmerizing time-lapse video, shot over the course of seven months, you can see the building go from white roof to dirt to a blanket of the varied greens of a vegetable farm. The produce—an abundance of tomatoes, salad greens, peppers, kale, chard, and more—gets sold at local farm stands and through CSAs. More

Impact Design Countdown to 2015

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Since the founding of PublicInterestDesign.org in 2011, we have wrapped up each year with an annual recap on the most impactful milestones of the year and predictions on upcoming happenings for the year ahead. This year we’ve decided to mix it up a bit by collaborating with other news sites to highlight the best initiatives of 2014 and forthcoming projects to keep an eye out for in 2015.

Our ‘Year in Review & A Look Ahead‘ series begins with a countdown to 2015 with stories from TakePart, a “digital news & lifestyle magazine and social action platform for the conscious consumer.” In addition to being a place to read about issues that matter, TakePart is a place to make a difference. Accompanying each article is a way to take meaningful and immediate action—sign a petition, donate, send support, take a pledge. Even better, each action is vetted by their “intimidatingly knowledgeable” Social Action team, so you know you’ll be lending your voice to a good cause.

Let’s get started with #10 in the list of 2014’s most impactful news!

Metropolis: Recap of Design for Equity Event

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Following up on the announcement of Design for Equity in November, Metropolis Magazine recently published a recap of the 1-½ day event. Sponsored by the Bruner Foundation and the Loeb Fellowship, three Boston-based organizations–Enterprise Community Partners, Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation and the Boston Redevelopment Authority–coordinated the event. Participants included 125 professionals from the fields of design, community development, arts, urban planning, philanthropy, advocacy, and government. The article’s author, Anne-Marie Lubenau, director of the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, summed up the experience:

The interactive forum provided a platform to consider the increasing economic and social disparity in our cities and explore how design can contribute to greater equity and opportunity for everyone. We were excited to explore the topic of equity in Boston, as the issue is a growing concern and is central to newly elected mayor Martin Walsh’s agenda.

Click here to read more on “Designing for Equity,” online at MetropolisMag.com.

2015 Wheelwright Prize Guidelines Released

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Harvard GSD recently launched the 2015 Wheelwright Prize, a $100,000 traveling fellowship for early-career architects. Now open internationally, the annual prize is “dedicated to fostering new forms of architectural research informed by cross-cultural engagement.” Guidelines for 2015 submissions are now available on the website. The prize will accept applications online January 5th-30th, 2015.

“Since relaunching the prize two years ago, we have seen hundreds of extraordinary responses from every corner of the globe, exhibiting an admirable ambition among young architects to define new territories of concern for the profession,” remarked Harvard GSD Dean Mohsen Mostafavi. “We look forward to the 2015 competition and anticipate submissions to address an equally impressive range of spatial, technological, urban, social, and political issues.”

Click here to learn more and apply for the 2015 Wheelwright Prize, online at WheelwrightPrize.org.