Theaster Gates Brings His Placemaking Vision to Gary, Indiana


Theaster Gates is one of the most recognizable faces at the intersection of the arts and community development in the U.S. His current initiative, creating a two-track program for culinary students and those who would start food businesses in Gary, Indiana, will address what the city’s mayor calls a “pressing need.”

“Over the past 50 years of U.S. Steel layoffs, Gary has experimented with its fair share of economic development elixirs, from urban renewal in the ’60s to casinos in the ’90s. Fifteen years ago, Gary invested more than $20 million into the Steel Yard, the 6,000-seat baseball stadium. ‘It was supposed to drive economic development,’ [Mayor Karen] Freeman-Wilson says. ‘That didn’t happen.’”

Known for his successful efforts that transformed a swath of vacant homes into art spaces in Chicago, among other highly visible and much renowned initiatives, Gates recognizes and respects the appetite for grassroots change, mindful of concerns about arts, development, and possibilities of gentrification.

Read more about Gates’ work in Gary, Indiana and beyond, at Next City.

Photo: Lloyd de Grane

“Communities Building Their Own Economies”


The most effective way to tackle complex economic issues is not simply a grassroots effort, nor is a top-down approach a viable fix. It is the combination of the two, the nurturing of community-building initiatives combined with education and accountability that provides the mechanisms by which low-income communities are able to overcome poverty, generate their own assets and recover wealth.

“Empowering communities to take control of economic development is slow, patient work—and people funding or supporting it need to take this into account when assessing success. Long-term, place-based commitments are critical; parachuting in and out does little to build local capacity” states Steve Dubb of Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Myriad examples illustrate that education-centric approaches that enable and empower low-income communities have long-term, positive impacts.

Read specific examples of these successes at the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Image: Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

Pathways to Practice – Lessons From The Field


A Winding Path, Not A Straight Line

“No!” said Charlie Cannon emphatically when asked if there is a “clear pathway” to an impact design career. But, said Cannon, there are many more pathways today than there have ever been. Speaking to a room full of enthusiastic young designers and social change seekers at Better World By Design – Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design’s annual student-led conference devoted to a sustainable and socially just future – Cannon summed up the sentiment of the Pathways to Practice panel by questioning the very concept that there are any easy answers, or whether that’s even a bad thing. “The idea that anyone in impact design – or even design as a whole – is only going to work in any one job, sector or problem, other than something incredibly broad like ‘changing the world’, seems improbable,” said Cannon, who serves as head of Industrial Design at RISD. “And that’s potentially incredibly freeing … you could be CEO of your own company in five years. It could be a one-person company or it could be five thousand people, but either way it’s possible.” More

Innovation by Design Finalists Announced

Ocean_CleanUpFast Company’s Innovation by Design finalists have just been announced. Entries into the competition are judged by their functionality, originality, beauty, sustainability, depth of user insight, cultural impact and business impact. In the Social Good category, finalists submitted projects to address various challenges, from ailing oceans to remote internet access.

Finalists included:

  • The Ocean Cleanup: Created by Boyan Slat and the staff and volunteers of The Ocean Cleanup. Instead of going after the estimated 5.25 trillion individual pieces of plastic in the ocean, The Ocean Cleanup uses long, ingeniously designed floating barriers to let the ocean currents concentrate the plastic itself.

  • Advanced Ordnance Teaching Materials (AOTM): Created by members of the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation. The AOTM comprises 10 models made using consumer grade 3-D printers that teach technicians-in-training across borders and language barriers how to properly defuse and dispose of bombs .

  • New Ebola Protective Suit: Created by Jhpiego, Johns Hopkins University Center for Bioengineering, Innovation, and Design, Clinvue. The suit includes a clear visor incorporated into the suit and air vents in the hood for keeping cool in hot climates—and, most ingeniously, a single rear zipper that easily causes the suit to peel away, without the contaminated exterior ever touching the wearer’s skin.

The Innovation by Design competition is a showcase for design solutions and inspiring stories about projects that speak to the nature of innovation. Read about the rest of the finalists in the Social Good category, as well as the other competition categories at Fast Company.

Eco-Hacking: Open-Source Solutions for Energy Access

By Michael Floyd

On August 15, 2015, scores of makers, engineers, designers, and mentors began to arrive at a 16th Century chateau west of Paris for five weeks of open source eco-hacking. Their goal: to refine and prototype a set of twelve open source hardware solutions for a sustainable low-carbon economy. The gathering is called POC21—for “proof of concept”—a cheeky play on “COP21” (the international climate summit scheduled to take place in Paris this December). POC21 transformed the castle and its idyllic grounds into a maker’s paradise: an open source laboratory, accelerator, and rapid prototyping facility. As one participant put it, “The geeks have officially stormed the castle.”

Several of the projects seek to change how we generate, conserve, and monitor the use of energy. Here, we profile three projects that aim to increase our control over our personal energy generation and consumption. If successful, their efforts will move us closer to an efficient, low-carbon, distributed energy system that can be adopted worldwide. More

Design Trust for Public Space Call for Fellows


Design Trust for Public Space is now accepting applications for fellowships in urban design, green infrastructure, and lighting to work on a pilot project that is part of El-Space: Creating Dynamic Places Under the Elevated. The deadline to apply is October 2, 2015. Design Trust fellows are chosen for their expertise, experience, and skill set. Fellows will share their talents with a wide array of partners, staff, and community stakeholders, and work effectively to reveal innovative responses to the city’s most significant challenges.

“The pilot will form a gateway to the waterfront, increase environmental health, and enhance pedestrian safety for residents of Sunset Park and workers at Industry City and adjacent sites. It will also test replicable lighting, green infrastructure, and urban design strategies in anticipation of an eventual NYC DOT capital project at the site, and application at ‘el-space’ locations citywide.”

Fellows will be responsible for developing the design and maintenance strategy for the pilot site, monitoring and documenting the pilot’s use and performance, and assessing and synthesizing the findings.

Learn more and apply before October 2, 2015 at Design Trust.

Cornell Study Shows Good Design Means Better Health Outcomes


Many health care facility owners hold the assumption, that new design and construction offer little to no financial returns. In a recent Cornell study published in Health Environments Research and Design Journal, the opposite of this assumption is proving to be true.

“Good design is good for business. Building facilities that follow guidelines – as shown by research – will likely to develop more economically viable health care for the community. Smart spending upfront prevents high costs in the future, and results in fewer infections and injuries for both patients and staff,” said Rana Zadeh, assistant professor of design and environmental analysis.

Studies have shown that good design interventions lead to reduced rates of hospital-acquired infections, patient falls, patient anxiety, and staff injury, all of which result in significant savings.

Click here to read the full article on the Cornell Chronicle

IDEO’s 91-Year-Old Designer Brings Focus To Needs Of Elders


91-year-old Barbara Beskind is helping global design firm IDEO shift its focus from re-designing common, everyday products to things that aren’t traditionally considered “designable,” like the way we approach topics like aging, death, and religion. Since Beskind was originally hired two years ago for an exploratory project on aging, her perspective has not only been useful for projects that focus on improving life for aging populations, but for improving life for all.

“Older people are an under-recognized capital asset hiding in plain sight. No one should trivialize the physical or economic challenges of aging, but it can be an incredible opportunity,” says Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging.

As populations begin to age worldwide, a result compounded by increased longevity and lower birth rates, researchers are pointing out that we simply cannot afford to have this large and productive segment of the population simply disappear from the workforce. As Beskind exemplifies, older adults can continue to make contributions, which benefits both the workforce as a whole, and aging adults individually.

Read more about Beskind and the benefits of having older adults in the workforce at Pacific Standard Magazine.

Image courtesy of IDEO

Product Design Student Shares Insights from “Sustainable Summer School”


This summer, product design student Arotin Hartounian attended the Sustainable Summer School at the ArtCenter College of Design. The school engages all disciplines with a dynamic, entrepreneurial, and experiential approach to design education. The Sustainable Summer program invites design students from all over the world to explore and develop solutions to cultural patterns and traditions that hinder well-being and quality of life.

“One of the major insights I gained through the first phase was that sustainability efforts must address all structures and levels in society. From global economics to governments to businesses. From culture to households to the individual,” Hartounian says.

Hartounian shared his thoughts on the program’s emphasis on the different ways design can initiate and support sustainable behavior in daily life, as well as what he thinks the biggest obstacles to creating necessary changes are.

Read more about Hartounian’s experience and the Sustainable Summer School here.

Photo: Design Matters at ArtCenter College of Design

Cyclone Housing Design + Build Opportunity in Bangladesh


In Bangladesh, a country frequently affected by natural disasters, thousands of homes and even entire villages are destroyed annually by natural disasters. Communities are especially vulnerable to cyclones. For this reason, Building Trust International will be leading a workshop with locals in Barishal, Bangladesh in 2016 to design and build a low cost, cyclone resistant house and explore other housing solutions.

The course will “result in a new housing prototype working with others to learn on-site skills such as using super adobe, testing soil, framing bamboo  and constructing roofs, to preventing wind damage and flooding.” The workshop will take place January 16- January 30, 2016. Register soon to ensure your spot in the program.

For further information or to register, visit Building Trust International.