Funding Received: 2013
New York, NY
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
October 28, 2013

This fall AIGA/NY kicked off Design/Relief, a participatory design initiative to help the three New York City neighborhoods of Red Hook, the Rockaways and Lower Manhattan. AIGA/NY Design/Relief will Design/Relief, which will award fellowships to design teams who will work with communities hit hard by Sandy to help re-establish community identities.

In September and October 2013, the AIGA/NY team focused its efforts on building three Design/Relief teams, each team consisting of a balanced set of skills, in response to the diverse needs of the three neighborhoods we'll be working with: Red Hook, Rockaways, and South Street Seaport. Each team includes up to two communication designers, a community engagement strategist familiar with public outreach methods (e.g. ideation, brainstorming community workshops), and a storyteller who will gather information along the way and help AIGA/NY create visibility for the project through regular blog reports. We hope each team can contribute to creative placemaking definitions as they develop their concepts and build a case study to share with other chapters of AIGA nationally.

The teams were selected through a nomination process, and using the AIGA/NY board's connections to identify the best and brightest team members who are the most familiar with community-centered design. We have enrolled a stellar cast of emerging designers with varied backgrounds in graphic design, interactive design, digital strategy, art direction, photography, and illustration as well as activists familiar with community engagement. They are the kinds of participants we were aiming to bring on for this project (i.e. skilled mediators, resourceful thinkers and makers, eager to collaborate and bring their design-focused vision to help reinvigorate a sense of identity in these waterfront neighborhoods still hit hard as we approach the one-year anniversary of Sandy).

To open up the conversation about Design/Relief to the AIGA/NY community, we’re exploring creating volunteer opportunities and ways that people might participate in creating a definition of creative placemaking by design.


We are in the final stages of recruitment for a Design/Relief film crew who will follow the three teams on site, and document the public engagement of our teams with the communities. We plan to produce a documentary film that would demonstrate design's potential as a positive agent of transformation.

In October 2013, the three AIGA/NY Design/Relief teams were gathered in an intimate “Meet and Greet” breakfast held at General Assembly. We introduced them to our framework and intent, and walked them through the rationale behind the team structure and provided general advice on collaboration, reporting to the AIGA team, and creating schedules and budgets. An official kickoff meeting was held on October 16 at the Bumble & Bumble auditorium. Team members were introduced to each other and to a selection of community representatives. It is important to us to foster a sense of camaraderie between the Design/Relief creatives so they can feel part of a structured initiative that encourages discussing process and methods while offering time and place to share experiences. Eventually, we hope this group will set standards of best practices in the field of community-centered design. The speakers representing the three communities ranged from NYC Small Business Services grant managers, photographers directly involved in documenting the effect of Sandy in the Rockaways, architects, social services nonprofit founders and community activists in Red Hook and small business entrepreneurs.

Neighborhood Outreach
The presence of these community speakers at the kickoff meeting marked the first step towards establishing a clearer partnership with neighborhood associations and nonprofits, small businesses, BIDs, and individuals who have a vested interest in rebuilding those places and make them more inviting. Design/Relief is a designer-led initiative that will establish a collaboration with various partners and stakeholders representative of the diverse interests in a given community, but not necessarily with a particular client in mind. The community need of each place should be revealed through a design-centered process and point of view, not prescribed by a nonprofit. Thus, a close coalition of stakeholders will be formed to ensure buy-in and active participation from their constituents.

The AIGA/NY Design/Relief teams started researching existing assets, activating their network and list of contacts provided by AIGA/NY. The Red Hook team spent an afternoon exploring the neighborhood, starting to talk to residents, small restaurant owners, meeting with Red Hook Volunteers and ended their expedition at a well-attended community meeting at the local public school, PS 15. The event was organized by NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program, an initiative funded by Governor Cuomo, which seeks to aid about 100 neighborhoods in NYC with their post-hurricane rebuilding efforts, both from the built environment and the social fabric resiliency point of view. The public engagement process for this long term sustainable master plan is led by long-time residents of Red Hook, architects-activists and urban farmers who will eventually be key partners in our Design/Relief. It was exciting for us to see first hand the potential of community engagement but also a moment for us to reflect on how communication design could approach it differently.

In the next few days, the three teams are planning longer site visits and meetings with some of these stakeholders already encountered at the Kickoff, dig deeper in some of the findings and recommendations already identified, and approach new people, in South Street Seaport, Red Hook and the Rockaways.

Finally, in the next three months (October -December 2013), AIGA/NY Design/Relief, has organized three talks will take place in neighborhoods of Red Hook, the Rockaways and Lower Manhattan featuring creative placemaking experts from around the world. AIGA/NY is proud to invite inspiring leaders in community development to present their stories and best practices in creative placemaking. The first event will take place on October 24, 2013 at Pioneer Works, an innovative arts and science center in Red Hook with UK-based expert Donald Hyslop, Head of Regeneration and Community Partnerships at Tate Modern (London).

Recent Wins
-- Formed Design/Relief creative teams
-- Reached out to local community representatives in each of the three neighborhoods
-- Initiated search of film crew, and hope to begin documenting our progress
-- Expanded the ecosystem of AIGA/NY Design/Relief  with partnerships with Columbia University and Pratt Institute.
-- Developed programs as part of the ecosystem
-- Organized AIGA/NY Design/Relief program series: the first event is on October 24, 2013 in Red Hook.

The testimonies provided at our last kickoff by these potential community partners were truly inspiring, informative and at the same time, heartbreaking. The daily struggle with post-Sandy recovery efforts still remains. One of the main take-aways was that the Red Hook and the Rockaways communities in particular have been the subject of many design charrettes, community meetings, NGO aid, and student research projects, which points to a potential burnout. Community representatives recommended that AIGA/NY Design/Relief teams be conscious of the fatigue and be prepared to face challenges in their first outreach efforts. The necessity of reinventing the community board meeting came up several times during the conversation—could this be a design project in and of itself?