Funding Received: 2013
New York, NY
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
April 11, 2014


ArtPlace Summit 2014 as Inspiration and Aspiration
The ArtPlace Summit in Los Angeles was a welcome break as we reached the middle point our project; it also offered a sunny respite from our harsh, endless winter as well as inspiration, guidance, and new aspirations for our design-driven approach to creative placemaking. The main takeaway for us was the importance placed on collecting data—asking the right research question for which to aggregate data, considering data collecting an iterative process and potentially a tool for further engagement, although its use might not be always clear at the beginning. We were also reminded to be intentional about what we want to change through our project, and to understand change as enhancement rather than revolution at a time when places change constantly and rapidly.

The conference also offered refreshing perspectives by deep thinkers, such as Dr. Manuel Pastor, and pragmatic practioners such as Morphosis’s design principal Eui-Sung Yi. Both discussed the favorite dilemma of creative placemakers (i.e. the fine line between gentrification and displacement). We were reminded time and again that improving a place successfully needed to be tackled along with addressing social justice issues, inclusion, and an opportunity-building mindset.

The subsequent talk Program Director Laetitia Wolff attended a week later at NYU Marron Institute, “The Challenge of the City,” also touched on the issue of gentrification. With superstar creative economy expert Richard Florida, moderating economist Paul Romer and sociologist Robert Sampson, the conversation attempted to frame gentrification around nuanced factors of concentrated disparity vs. middle class affordability. In placing them in what appeared to be the very narrow capitalistic paradigm of supply and demand, the speakers concluded that we no longer have a growth model to offer. So what does the notion of growth mean to the creative placemaking work we all do?

Finally, the potential for ArtPlace to focus its next seven years on storytelling and research, among other significant endeavors that hope to support the creative placemaking movement, sounded like potentially amazing opportunities for our organization. As we explore how Design/Relief creates work that can ask new questions (of design and designers) and from which we can learn, the ArtPlace conference attendees repeatedly raised the need for solid, communicative, compelling storytelling tools that can help them target decision-makers while engaging communities in the process. Embedding storytelling and modeling collaborative structures has been at core of Design/Relief since the inception of our project. AIGA/NY is eager to continue modeling best practices, while extending its unique design professional expertise to this Creative Placemaking practice, and solve the challenge of storytelling.

The Release of “Catch&Release”
Our Seaport team closed Phase 1 of “Catch& Release” on Saturday March 15 with a well-attended site visit co-produced with OHNY (Open House New York, the leader in urban tours). WXY Architecture + Urban Design's Adam Lubinsky and Design/Relief designer Yeju Choi led a walking tour that explored the proposed site of the Brooklyn Bridge Beach, part of the East River Blueway Plan, and finished the walk with our pop-up participatory installation Catch — & — Release, to understand how social and infrastructural strategies for addressing the void created by the FDR can work hand-in-hand to reconnect the neighborhood with its waterfront.


Our Seaport team is now launching their Phase 2 with the preparation of a public charrette on March 22, that will invite participants to unearth cultural treasures and identify stories, old and new. Cultural Placemaking expert Susan Silberberg of CivicMoxie, Boston, author of a recent white paper on placemaking (MIT) will be kicking the afternoon as part of our third talk in the series.


Partnerships Going Public
Our Rockaway team solidified their partnership with 100-year old newspaper “The Wave,” manifested this month by a series of guest Letters to the Editor. The weekly is the host of the Rockaway Museum archives and the recent initiator of Rockaway Connect, an oral history project which our team is helping grow and feed content into that will serve their placemaking guerrilla style campaign. Their project entitled “Dear Rockaway” aims to increase connectivity across the peninsula by gathering oral histories and making conversations visible while simultaneously activating public spaces.


Our Red Hook team got confirmation from its three partners as well (Miccio Community Center, Brooklyn Public Library on Lorraine Street and the Digital Stewards of the Red Hook Initiative) to move on with their HUB project, a strategically placed public information system that aggregates and circulates vital information, based on community need. The team is now sourcing construction quotes for the HUB which will provide different kinds of information in digital and/or analog formats and be mediated by a coalition of community members, hence the importance of establishing long-term partnership on content infrastructure with key local organizations.

Meanwhile, our Seaport team has had more difficulty establishing official and selective partnerships in their place, partly because of the community recently being so polarized between the “good and bad guys” of land use, and partly because the rapid prototyping the “Catch&Release” installation attempted first to be a neutral tool for engagement in the neighborhood.

Recent Wins
Started earlier this semester, our educational partnership with Pratt Institute’s Communication Design/Design graduate students was delivered mid-term to our Red Hook team. The advocacy-themed class led by Andrew Shea focused the student research on Red Hook and offered to validate our team’s ongoing field work around the best location for the HUB, for what is a very divided neighborhood, socially, economically and geographically. The student method of inquiry was largely inspired by Jan Gehl's (author of the recent “How to Study Public Life”) people-centric urban design/creative place-making methods. The survey asked passersby where they walk to and from home/work, what modes of transport they use and what places they go to, to gather, rest, and shop. Often it showed that what people listed on the map as potential places for the HUB did not match their walking paths. In other words, there was a disconnect between the way people think of themselves and their needs, what they think this HUB could do for them and its potential location, or how they tend to associate help with certain sections of the neighborhood of which they are not a part. These strange but interesting results might have been largely influenced by the question shifting in a disaster context vs. an every day context.


On February 28, the Seaport project was invited to participate in “Surviving Sandy,” a program at the Bronx River Art Center. Project designer Yeju Choi presented “Catch& Release” in the context of artists and activists reflecting on creative gestures in response to natural disasters, and comparing notes with their Russian counterparts, following the Chelyabinsk Meteorite disaster. “Catch& Release” was also included in Singapore’s Lasalle College of the Arts group show entitled “Cities and their Thesis.”

Design/Relief will partake in the second NYCXDESIGN, the citywide design celebration this May, and AIGA/NY is invited to be a key player in Industry City, a new, exciting venue in the Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn, programmed by “Wanted Design,” the alternative design fair. Design/Relief will present their work in a form of an exhibit, film viewing, and through public panels as we conclude our project in the three neighborhoods.

DR Beyond DR
Design/Relief has brought visibility to AIGA/NY over the past months, as it models a radically different kind of programming and mode of engagement for a professional organization that has mostly focused its outreach efforts on talks, panels and networking events. Consequently we’ve recently received the interest of a New York-based city organization interested in leveraging the power of graphic designers to enhance underutilized (and under-loved) public spaces, beautify and blur neighborhood boundaries and build greater connections to surrounding communities. Stay tuned for more info.

-- Designers are not sociologists, nor ethnographic experts. Also let’s not forget that students still need to learn however hands-on and real their research project is, and sometimes cannot yield the expected results.

-- Storytelling is a tough exercise, and although we designers should know how to navigate those waters, the idea of developing a visually-driven, reflective document that captures a design process in mid-air is not as easy as it sounds, for all designers.

-- Design project management is key to project success and often underestimated when putting together teams. It’s the hot potato job!

-- “Collaboration is principled conflict,” said Eui-Sung Yi, design principal at Morphosis and Director of the Now Institute at UCLA at the ArtPlace conference. Can’t agree more.

-- Winter is not the ideal period for community engagement.