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.
Freshkills Park Development and Program Strategy
2008-2012. My work on the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation’s Freshkills Park development team was managing three major strategic initiatives. First was defining projects and seeking grant funding for relatively light near-term capital projects—visitor centers, bike and pedestrian paths, interpretive signage, sports fields, wetland restoration—that could engage visitors to peripheral areas of the park, in the interest of gradually building public familiarity with the site from the outside in as larger scale park development proceeded—as well as raising funds for programmatic needs and goals to support that growth agenda.
Next was to develop a set of programs to make more legible, concrete and inspiring the massive new park site for new and potential users. Along with other team members, I participated in extensive conversation and alliance-building with many, many civic and citizen groups, cultural organizations, schools, and individual residents of both Staten Island and New York City at large. Having developed a clearer understanding of the project's various constituencies, I conceived and collaborated to stage art performances, tours, lectures, field trips, an annual park preview day, and a mobile app all focused on on the goal of serving these various audiences and their desires for engaging with the site in advance of its full build-out.
To complement these programs, I developed and designed a range of print and digital materials clearly explaining the history and infrastructure of the Freshkills Park site, the regulations and process governing it and the park development projects underway within it, as well as materials that would connect the park project to other related and more near-term accessible projects and activities and keep it alive in public imagination as pre-construction proceeded.
The New Springville Greenway.A recently completed 3.3-mile bike path running along the east side of the park. Funded by a grant I scoped and adminstered. Photo by Michael Tatar, Staten Island Advance.
The Visitor Center. A temporary Visitor Center that currently serves as an educational stop on the site's bus tour and also as staging ground for events. I developed the content and managed the design for the exhibits.
Sneak Peak at Freshkills Park, 2010 and 2011:An annual event I conceived and co-directed, conceptualized as a park preview event to allow the public to experience and be inspired by a 233-acre sector of the 2,200-acre site as parkland for the day, with many of the normal limitations on access and activity suspended. A number of programming and funding partnerships were forged with local organizations and businesses. Attractions included kayaking and canoeing in the site’s creeks, biking its trails, walking tours, public art installations, kite making and flying, food vendors, craft markets, live music, information fairs, composting and craft workshops, birdhouse building, pony rides, e-waste recycling and more. Most of these were first-ever activities in the history of the site. The event was a huge success and has become an annual tradition and a cornerstone of fundraising and constituency building for the park project.
Sneak Peak brought the New York Water Taxi to the site—the first time a passenger ship had docked there in over 50 years. This photo and the one above it by Michael Anton/NYC Department of Sanitation.
"I am Within/Without." A sculptural installation by D.B. Lampman. The first art installation ever on site.
PARK.A performance developed by choreographer Kathy Westwater and her collaborators, me among them, over the course of several intensive site visits and performed on-site.
Educational Presentations.I developed a variety of educational presentations aimed at student groups from elementary school through college.
Freshkills Park Blog.I created, designed, wrote and edited the blog. Since the park is a limited-access, long-term development in a remote corner of New York City, it was important to offset by maintaining an active and frequent presence in the minds of its existing and potential advocates; the blog was part of the resulting strategy. It served as a hub for stories related to all of the intellectually interesting aspects of the park: landfills, recycling, landscape architecture, New York City development and history, art, renewable energy and more, in addition to any news and media relating to park development and programming. In conjunction with a lecture series I ran on related topics, the blog was one of the only ways for the general public to easily engage with—and virtually gain access to—the park on a regular basis.
Fresh Perspectives Newsletter.I served as primary editor and designer of every issue in addition to writing a large share of the content, producing illustrations and taking a number of the photos. PDF archives are available here.
Native Meadow Mix Seed Packets. Packets of native meadow seed that I conceived and co-developed as a giveaway to site visitors. As park development at the site is slow and long-term, the seed packets were conceptualized as a way to have something tangible, personal and positive for constituents to take home and engage with in relation to the in the near term. Another intention was to shift the site’s implicit identity from connotations of waste and environmental degradation to those of ecological restoration, sustainability and growth. Native, local species provided will be used in meadow restoration at the site as well used to cultivate even more seed at an on-site farm for further restoration efforts: planting these seeds at home, in gardens and pots, offer a preview of the park to come.
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.
2013-present. A 5-week course I teach to graduate students in the Programs for Sustainable Planning & Development at Pratt Institute. The course introduces students to methods and principles of visual representation and reasoning and coaches them through thinking strategically and comprehensively about how information could and should be communicated in a planning context.
The course focuses on:
1) developing critical capacities in order to evaluate and discuss the effectiveness and suitability of different approaches to representing information;
2) using information graphics to synthesize various sources of information and to formulate argumentative narratives about the built environment; and
3) initiating in a design process that employs some advanced methods and tools for making graphics, while integrating common software tools.
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.
Digital Water Curtain. One of the proposals I co-conceived was a digital water curtain: a sinuous, motion-sensing armature that opened and closed to allow citizens to pass through it as well as digitally "printing" patterns in the water. The concept was refined and demonstrated by Carlo Ratti Associati and the MIT Senseable City Lab for the 2008 World Expo held in Zaragoza.
Memory Pavement.Intended to record pedestrian activity across a given space using responsive ground surfacing. Digital pavers each contain a sensor and and LED. Each time a footstep hits a paver, it emits an increment of light. As time passes, paths of light are illuminated where pedestrians have tread the most; untread areas emit no light. Pedestrians are made to consider the physical impact their travels leave on the city as well as to become aware of typical and atypical paths.
The cartoon scenarios I developed for the prospectus provided greater narrative context and personal connection to the built proposals being made.
Divine House Cooperative
2014-present. The house I live in is a cooperative: 20 of us share a single household and the responsibilities for managing and growing as a residential community. Since moving into the house, I have observed its challenges to household operation and community building and developed a variety of responses to help address these challenges.
There are 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.