Talk on the Block
Building an idea-sharing platform between locals and entrepreneurs
Gentrification has developed a negative connotation for businesses seeking to operate in historic neighborhoods. Unwanted economic developments have cultivated distrust and altercations between locals and entrepreneurs in the community. Although town halls and community board meetings were helpful resources, they are often rigorous and uninviting for new ideas.
With this challenge, Talk on the Block aimed to neutralize the tensions by advocating to preserve local values while managing a balance between the inevitable desires for economic development and an uncompromising nature of a conservative neighborhood.
The project took place from October 2013 to December 2013. I worked as an experience designer with four other students during our study at Parsons, The New School of Design - M.A in Transdisciplinary Design.
The scope of the project was defined during a 3 day Charrette.
Our task was to create a service that would be suitable in the Lower East Side of Manhattan using a currently vacant commercial property.
Stage I - Understanding the user
We conducted interviews and surveys to as many volunteers as possible to extract qualitative experiences as well as emotional values.
In addition to 1-1 interviews during our preliminary research, we created an interactive exercise hoping that it would aid our interviewees in thinking about their current surrounding and why they enjoyed living in or visiting the area. The exercise brought out responses that would not have been extracted as naturally from just interview questions. By visualizing their surroundings, we were able to address emotional experiences as well as deeper motivations that helped focus our next research iteration. We wanted to understand why the community is the way it is, and why locals and visitors alike interact in the area the way they do. The potential commercial space that we were designing for will not only affect the people living in the area, but also explorers, students, parents, and employees who frequent the area. By thoroughly examining for honest motivations, we were able to design a service or services that would answer to the needs and desires of the people.
The amount of responses and diversity of thoughts and emotions seemed overwhelming at first, but we were able to synthesize the ideas into themes. We saw patterns and highlighted behaviors and goals that were common. As we started to form personas and journey maps, we were able to identify the highs and lows of living within the LES and found moments that matter; whether it is a deciding to purchase an apartment to build a family, or to only come back when the sun is out and you have a perfect outfit to show.
Once again, we opened shop in the vacant commercial space and asked locals to build their own business ideas with the themes and goals we prioritized.
What we found was that our project is the service the community was looking for. Our presence in the area over a span of 3 weeks allowed community members to voice their concerns about new businesses and give feedback in hopes to improve the entire area altogether. We were acting like a community town hall but the difference was that we were more engaging, effective, and sensitive to their thoughts and ideas.
In response, we redirected our focus to create two platforms to provide our service.
- Digital platform for users to give feedback whenever they want.
- Physical space for in-person interaction to voice any concerns, and to host a facilitated workshop space to welcome anyone in the community who is giving feedback to know that their opinions are being considered and will impact future solutions.
Stage II - know the existing market
We spoke to various community leaders who have gone through the process of meeting with the community boards and tired to look for the resources they had when applying for a license to open.
Stage III - Designing the experience
Part of the challenge for this project was to consider the scaleability of our service and how it might affect other cultures. We built an Information-communication structure for the insights to be shared and scaled for communities alike basing financial and human resources on government support.
Talk on the Block provides local residents and potential business owners with information that may take months to gather. Residents are given the platform to express what businesses they would like on their block. As the valuable information is collected, TOTB will makes sense of the data to compose operational models and business proposals that is open to purchase. Some ideas will be available as an open-source for well-meaning entrepreneurs to form their own company in ways both favorable to their business and the local community.