Latham St. Commons
transform two disconnected neighborhoods into one thriving community by creating an urban commons that fulfills the communities' needs
1. interview stakeholders (residents of Friendship and Garfield)
2. co-design a sustainable garden for the summer
3. organize events
4. design exhibit panels using InDesign
one Design, one Architecture professor
one Agriculture undergrad
one Creative Writing undergrad
one Design undergrad
In a team of four undergraduate students and two professors, I was involved in designing and organizing a series of community engagement efforts to transform this space that was an alley of empty and unused storage units into an urban commons.
Acknowledging that the community surrounding Latham Street Commons is at the heart of this project, our goals during the Summer were to listen to the community members and take what we heard to design a commons for the two communities, Friendship and Garfield. We asked questions, received and heard what the people dreamt this place could become, what their needs are, and other desires that can add life to the space.
Engaging the Community
This movement at LSC started in Fall 2014 where events were organized to get to know the community. Questions that were asked were:
- Who are the stakeholders/what kind of people live in the community?
- How do they want this place to be transformed?
- What are the community’s immediate and long-term needs?
Getting to know your audience and their needs are important steps to take when designing a product. And the effort has to come from both sides: the audience needs to engage with the designers by providing input and their honest opinions, and the designers need to actively listen to those requests and needs, to create the best possible product. These are a few research initiatives (graffiti walls, brainstorming sessions, cultural probes) that I was involved with that included community members giving input.
Getting Down and Dirty
With the whole summer ahead of us, we needed to understand how feasible a sustainable garden could be since one of the visions is that a garden would help the neighborhoods’ food insecurity. Garden spaces began to take shape and be fruitful with fresh produce that was grown to be shared with the communities. Community members joined our team in the garden’s early conception, to create a rooftop garden, a rain collection system, a living wall and a hanging mixed greens garden.
The undergrads and I gathered more input from the community as we shared the fresh fruit and veggies, but other than input for the garden, we needed to see how the communities would respond to a space that had shops catered to their needs, so we began to organize mash-up events.
Community Mash-up Events
With its prime location next to Penn Ave, Latham St. Commons drew curious neighbors to events that were held once a month. Using the feedback we received from the community, we gathered shop owners and health service providers to see if those who come would feel that a need was fulfilled.
From the attendance rates and feedback, we called the summer a success!
All the input from community members was valuable for creating the optimal space that the communities can take advantage of.
Wrapping Up the Summer
This summer of community probing and listening concluded with a final celebratory event at Latham St. Commons. Our team designed and exhibited twenty panels, showing our work from the beginning to the end of Summer 2015. I co-designed the exhibit panels with a fellow design undergrad and a professor. Below are just a few of those panels.
Looking to the Future
By uncovering the needs and desires of this community, we left a number of clear goals for Latham St. Commons to strive for:
- bridge cultural and social boundaries through innovative place-making and social inclusion (place-making: a people centered approach to designing a public space)
- increase food security by growing and selling affordable, healthy food
- provide the resources for children to be equipped to become the agents of change in the community
- co-create a culture that affirms the value of all people
what i learned
- this experience further emphasized the importance of getting input and feedback from those I design for
- what it means to be empathic when designing
- to be comfortable with ambiguity during the design process
- how to find an area of intervention by considering evidence from user feedback and project goals