2013. A service design research project I co-led, through a fellowship with Public Policy Lab, investigating the successes and challenges of the NYC public high school choice process undertaken by 7th and 8th graders each year. I was recruited as the design fellow on the project (along with a strategy fellow and an ethnographer) but also contributed substantially to research strategy and synthesis of findings.
Each year more than 75,000 students navigate the admissions process to apply for seats at New York City’s 700+ public high school programs. The Public Policy Lab formed a partnership with the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and the Office of Student Enrollment to explore opportunities for improving this admissions experience.
Our team spoke with dozens of policymakers, school staff, parents, and 8th and 9th graders. We identified four needs that everyone in the process shares and proposed more than 30 opportunities to design services that respond to those needs. Subsequent phases of work will focus particularly on helping students from high-need and non-English-speaking families make more informed and confident decisions.
Subsequent to the research project, I created graphics and animation for a video produced by Meerkat Media reporting on the the project and the subsequent App Challenge that the Department of Education undertook to begin addressing some of our recommendations.
A video on which I collaborated to document the process.
A "kid story" from the report—a user journey through the process.
We were struck by how students' choices in 7th and 8th grades have real impacts on their future lives.
From the Ground Up
2010. ResilientCity.org held a design ideas competition to solicit new strategies from urban practitioners in planning and designing cities to be resilient to large-scale shocks like climate change and peak oil. Urban designer Michael Haggerty and I prepared a response to the prompt of designing for food self-sufficiency in an urban neighborhood.
Through study of the struggling West Side neighborhood in Newark, NJ, we developed a strategy that created a hierarchy of food production and processing facilities capitalizing on existing neighborhood assets, vacant properties, community history and workforce mobilization. Facilities were connected by a green corridor system designed to be a safe public space permitting distribution and exchange. We proposed networks of social and physical infrastructure to allow the neighborhood to generate and manage its own energy, water and heating and waste systems. The proposal won the competition’s grand prize.
Concept development and writing was a shared enterprise; I laid out and developed design language for the proposal and produced photo-illustrations and diagrams.
2007. My master’s thesis (PDF, 10MB) in urban planning focused on mobile user-generated and location-accessed digital annotation of physical places with text and media, and how this emerging field can be useful to urban planners and designers. The thesis establishes a taxonomy of modes of spatial annotation (both physical and virtual); catalogues annotations made in two neighborhoods each for the projects Yellow Arrow (in New York City) and [murmur] (in Toronto); and develops a preliminary methodology to analyze and compare trends in distribution, placement and content of annotations. So-called ‘placelogging’ content is found to distinguish itself from other forms of spatial annotation by its application a wide range of public and private places with predominantly subjective, first-person content.
Participant interviews and research on related technologies are used to support claims that placelogging could be used to identify sites of shared meaning in the city as well as to foster place attachment, claim to space and social connections among participants. Uses in community development are considered through three case studies of implementation. Uses for revealed meanings are proposed in preservation, identification of development priorities and sensitivity of response in urban development.
2006. The Digital Mile was a major intervention proposed by the City of Zaragoza, Spain to better position its enterprises, institutions and citizens in the technological 21st century. A large stretch of land in the heart of the city was proposed for redevelopment as public and private space integrating digital technology with the built environment. Our team at MIT was asked to envision, design and propose program for this project.
My contribution included proposals for several built interventions and digital services to engage citizens in considering the potential of their role in the city through technology. Some of these proposals were refined and realized for a 2008 World Expo that took place in Zaragoza.
For the printed prospectus, I conceived and produced a series of cartoon scenarios illustrating these proposals.
2014-2016. The house I lived in was a cooperative: 20 of us share a single household and the responsibilities for managing and growing as a residential community. After moving into the house, I observed its challenges to household operation and community building and developed a variety of responses to help address these challenges.
There were many commitments required by house membership: cooking, chores, committees, project oversight, workdays, even visioning sessions. It can be a challenge for 20 people to keep track of all of their responsibilities, to remain responsible to them, and to retain a sense of community and support with so many people and so much to do.
The calendar through which we sign up for our two regular cook and clean shifts used to be a page from a spreadsheet printed every five weeks and taped to the wall. It was hard to read and harder to tell whether everyone was participating—an empty dinner table was often the only way to note a gap in participation. I designed a more visual calendar that balances more clarity and accountability with celebration of housemates (whose beautiful portraits are featured in the magnetic photo frames during their birthdays or special occasions). When a housemate has signed up for their shifts in a given cycle, they flip over the magnets beside their name label from red to green (the name label is itself a whiteboard magnet, to accommodate a shifting house population). The vibrant visual indicator helps remind housemates to sign up and makes them more accountable to the rest of the house.
The dining table we shared sat 10 people at an absolute maximum—half the residents of the house. Housemates were eating in shifts or in separate rooms and were wary of bringing friends to dinner for fear of crowding. I surveyed the space and the different needs and constraints for the table—meetings, meals, projects, parties, daily clean-up—and proposed some options for a new, custom table. Since the proposal was for a much larger table than before, I made a paper prototype and placed it on the ground for housemates to maneuver around and weigh in on. The final design we developed—built by a carpenter friend—can be separated into two halves to add additional table space, and easily bolted back together. The inside legs of both halves are inset so as to allow comfortable seating at either of the short ends.
The house struggled for almost two years with questions of how to hold people accountable for their house commitments. Accountability checks dragged down weekly meetings, created resentments and did not address root causes of non-participation. Housemates were feeling alienated from one another by having the only house forum be a somewhat-impersonal 20-person meeting.
I proposed that we form 5 four-person groups of housemates called Pit Crews: groups whose job is to check in and do necessary maintenance on each other’s house membership. Pit crewmates could check in one-on-one with each other or as a group (say, over beers or out to dinner) about how they are feeling about the house, if there is support that one another need in the house, and if they are upholding the house commitments. Once a house member is behind in some house commitments by a requisite amount, a meeting facilitator could urge a Pit Crew to meet and, within a certain amount of time, come back with a Commitment Plan for the member in question. The Pit Crew (including the member in question) would then also be responsible for holding the member accountable for that plan. If no Commitment Plan was devised or the member was not successful in meeting the plan by a certain time, the Pit Crew could then be charged with conducting a Membership Review of the member and reporting back about its confidence in that membership, at which point the house could discuss it further.
The proposal was very well received, and we adopted the policy after a couple of months' discussion with housemates in various forums. It has been very popular thusfar.
House Commitments Tracker
Participation in the various agreed-upon house commitments was being tracked in multiple ways--some rigorously in spreadsheets, some in meeting minutes only, some not at all. The cumulative effect was for some housemates to feel that they were always behind, and for some to speculate that others weren't pulling their weight. To help cultivate a greater sense of clarity, transparency and accountability, I compiled all of the tracking into one Google Sheet, arraying it in a series of tabs into which each bottom-liner or individual housemate can track completion of commitments. A front, summary tab pulls from the other tabs and automatically highlights any shortfalls, providing an overview for each housemate and their Pit Crew (which can then offer support to housemates who are falling behind). The document lives in a shared Google Drive for the house.
The bedrooms in our house vary widely in size, noise, privacy and various amenities. Room pricing had initially been spitballed, with rooms of similar size grouped in rental tiers. Two years later, various housemates voiced complaints about the prices of their rooms relative to other people's. Concern for equity prompted me to initiate a process through which we could more democratically arrive at rents for individual spaces in the house.
The first step was a house-wide audit—allowing all housemates to evaluate each bedroom along a set of common, vetted criteria. Along with their audit forms, housemates filled out a form indicating the weight they wished to give each of these criteria.
I averaged all housemates' inputs for weighted priority of criteria and used these relative weights to divide up the monthly rent proportionally, to understand how much we should be paying in total for each criterion.
I tabulated average ratings for each person's bedroom on the various criteria, and used these average ratings and the weighted priorities to calculate a rent for each bedroom based on the survey data.
I offered the house a variety of ways to interpret the survey data and to calculate rent, in order to start a conversation about how the room rates might be adjusted. After several months of group conversation and further refinement, the proposed rates were adopted.
Splitting the Difference
2009. Proposal for an urban design intervention. Brooklyn’s Red Hook Ballfields are a community destination for soccer leagues and spectators and a regional destination for foodies seeking cheap and authentic Latin American eats. But after Department of Health (DOH) regulations forced many of the food vendors to reclocate from in-park tents and tables to food trucks outside the park perimeter, the elbow-bumping atmosphere of the ‘mercado’ was lost. Vending took place on the street, while seating remained inside the fenced-in park. Architecture for Humanity’s New York chapter held an ideas competition soliciting design interventions that could address both DOH’s concerns for sanitary food preparation conditions and the Parks Department’s regulations for vendors, while accounting for the impermanence of the vendors’ presence onsite.
Our team—urban designer Michael Haggerty, architect Bryan Ackley and myself—prepared a design solution that turned the primary barrier, the perimeter fence, into the central organizing element of the market. Outfitting it as a utility channel with electricity and sinks would allow some vendors to return to the park’s interior, with tents and grills; we recommended the Vendors Association purchase two or three food trucks for shared food prep areas that met inspection requirements. Vendors who had already invested significantly in new trucks could keep them. Slight ridges and depressions in the lawn were envisioned to echo the new topography of the fence and to create newly defined and nearby areas for seating. The proposal was awarded an Honorable Mention in the competition.