Look! A free produce stand!

My heart felt so full this week when I discovered that a free produce stand had been installed outside of the Hart to Hart Garden next to my tiny library! On its roof it reads: from the garden to the community/desde el jardin de la comunidad. How utterly wonderful!

This installation is exactly what my design model proposes; that if you invest in neighborhood resources, more will follow. I believe that the continued stocking of the garden library for the last four months has demonstrated that we neighbors can trust each other and reciprocate generosity in the form of books. Now the gardeners have a platform from which to share their extra garden bounty. I predict a lot of collard greens!

Also, get this: from my apartment window I had recently been noticing a neighbor working on a wood project in his backyard. When he spray painted it bright orange I was like, what kind of decor does he have going on in his house? When I saw it outside the garden it all came together. How cool that I saw it getting build, unbeknownst to me!

I have since left a note outside of the neighbor's front door and he has emailed me. He's a member of the garden and also a gallery owner interested in social practice art. He assumed that the library had been constructed by a garden member (which is partly true - neighbor/gardener Jeff did the wood construction and I did the painting and installation), and is impressed that it came from an "outsider." We're going to meet up in the garden and chat more!

Thesis Presentation

Here's a video of my final MFA thesis presentation from May 10, 2016. It was recorded from the Transdisciplinary Design studio at Parsons. 

Final Abstract

This thesis explores how design can bolster social capital in fragmented urban neighborhoods. Social capital – defined by Robert Putnam as the commodity of trust, reciprocity and respect between people – is a vital component for neighborhoods to be self-sustaining. However, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in which this thesis is focused and I reside, the rising gentrification breeds a de facto culture of in-group silos. This project posits design’s capacity to create space and opportunity for trust and reciprocity. The starting point for this exploration is through the physical structure of a Little Free Library, in which free books are made available to “leave an item, take an item.” Constructed in collaboration with a general store in Bed-Stuy, the tiny library serves as a platform for testing methods of garnering social capital. The main hypothesis of this thesis is that if a neighborhood is entrusted with caring for and engaging with artifacts that are left outside at all hours of the day, then heightened respect and reciprocity in the neighborhood will follow. This theory of object-based change builds on the already demonstrated success of Little Free Libraries and incorporates specific designed components to probe engagement. Designed touchpoints include: branded labels for the book spines so   users are reminded of the source of the books, bookplates inside the front covers posing questions about the neighborhood, promotion of a neighborhood tool library, and installation of a chalkboard to encourage passive dialogue. Also core to the library is its location; it’s purposefully installed in an intermediary public space in front of the general store so that it bears residual neutrality and welcomeness customary to that of a “third place.” In the two months thus far that the library has been installed, there has been a continues flow of book inventory, resoundingly positive response over social media and in-person, and even a neighbor that volunteered to build a library for the community garden. Although the lack of tangibility makes social capital a difficult asset to assess, feedback from neighbors indicates that the library installation makes them feel valued and that they are thankful for the structure. Only time will tell if this hyper-local platform will continue to nudge connection. From my own perspective, the project has added tremendous value to my social life. I truly feel like a member of my neighborhood, and the new friends, connections and sense of belonging will stay with me long after I close this thesis book. 

Object as Catalyst

The scope of my thesis research has ranged from macro to micro. Positioning the project in the big ideas – social capital (Robert Putnam), weak ties (Mark Granovetter), sidewalk culture (Jane Jacobs) and third places (Ray Oldenberg) – has grounded my prototypes. But when it comes to actually implementing these ideas, I've decidedly focused on the micro because that is the scale for which I have a grasp, have access and have time.

During my midterm presentation, it became clear that there was a gap between the foundational theory and the theory defining my actions on the ground. In my selection to replicate a Little Free Library, I was building upon a successful precedent. Specifically, the exemplification that people are capable of taking care of an object that is vulnerably placed in the public domain, and that this object can breed enhanced community sentiment.

How is this respect and reciprocation possible? Based on my own observations and the writings of theorists Elaine Scarry, Christopher Bollas and Lewis Hyde, I think it's because objects have power. Their aesthetic and functional qualities are valued, and when communally share, breed mutual respect. 

Elaine Scarry writes about her love of beautiful things in her book On Beauty and Being Just. She poses the question: “What is the felt experience of cognition at the moment one stands in the presence of a beautiful boy or flower or bird?” She describes beautiful things as "generative objects," and I see in her insights almost the Field of Dreams cliche of "if you build it, they will come." The tiny library that is posted outside Willoughby General is not a masterpiece of novelty, but it is a delightful structure for which people smile and pause. It's a small gesture to passersby, and an invitation to passively (read: without intimidation of having to talk to a stranger) engage in the exchange of the universally-appreciated commodity of a book.

On the subject of commodity, Lewis Hyde writes in his 1983 book The Gift that there are two kinds of property: gifts and commodity. He classifies a work of art as a gift; as the contribution of "creativity and the artist in the modern world." He highlights the status that can be achieved "by giving things away instead of pulling them up," and points to the impact of the "flow and movement of gifts." In making books free and open to the Bed-Stuy neighborhood, my aim is to encourage a gift culture, one that values reciprocity over individualism (harkening to the community work of Peter Block and the promotion of associationalism from Alexis de Tocqueville). 

Christopher Bollas positions object theory from a psycho-analytical perspective. His book The Evocative Object World looks at how "architecture and built environment interact with individual and societal dream life." He stresses that we're unconsciously "shaped by our use of evocative objects" and that "each place we visit triggers intricate chains of associations." By creating a network of tiny libraries in Bed-Stuy and expanding upon their offerings – such as opportunities for engagement, events in the third places or exchange of non-book commodities – maybe these structures can evoke heightened pride and reciprocity in the neighborhood.

I fit all of these theorists near the sociology idea of social constructionism (not constructivism), that contends that artifacts are created through the social interactions of a group. As I push toward the thesis finish line and start making sense of all these investigations, I must be intentional about how I frame the wooden libraries. The libraries are but one object that has the potential to catalyze deeper interactions in the neighborhood. They are the starting point upon which to build more touch points and higher hanging fruit.  

From exchange to interaction

How can I expand upon the tiny library and foster more of an exchange between people?

  • Add library check-out stickers on the inside of each book
  • Add stickers to the spine of each book to show they passed through the library
  • Create a custom stamp that's attached to the library and people can use as passports of sort
  • Use a changeable date stamp to show exact dates of exchange and give it that library quality
  • Direct people to a website. Do I make a custom site? Or direct to this thesis blog? Or to littlefreelibrary.org?
  • Add logos and branding to more components of the project
  • Add a chalk message board to the side of the library to encourage dialogue
  • Add bags/boxes for condom or doggie bag distribution

Network of Shared Objects

My research and prototyping has steered me to the concept of a shared public object. By building the Little Free Library, I'm testing neighborhood response to a shared object. These tiny libraries live fully in public space, twenty four hours a day. They are subject to the goodwill of those passing by. Will the library be knocked down? Will it be vandalized? It certainly could.

But so far, it is standing and books are continually being added and taken. To the skeptics who bring up topics of loitering and vandalism when I've shared my idea, boo ya! I'm not naive to negative possibilities, but I want to give optimism its time in the spotlight. The idea of amplifying the positive in a neighborhood is refreshing and I think that these libraries represent some of that. Every day that the library lives and is stocked, I believe the neighborhood has a nudge more trust and respect.

That's what social capital is all about – trust, respect and reciprocity. My hypothesis is that when a neighborhood collectively respects a public artifact, their respect for one another increases. These standalone wooden boxes are definitely not the end all be all though. I'm still pushing myself to think about what a network of these libraries would do to the neighborhood identity and energy of Bed-Stuy. I'm also contemplating ways to layer other services, experiences or routines to the libraries. What else could be shared? How can the libraries foster neighbor-to-neighbor interactions?

Library Momentum!

There's been continued buzz and energy about the tiny library! Passersby keep stopping and chatting and making conversation. Already, I'm running into people I recognize in other spots in the neighborhood. Seeing the response on Willoughby General's social media demonstrates that neighbors care about this installation. 

The build out is not yet complete though. After buying (and walking two avenues) with a 4x4, Rae drove me to a friend's house to construct the post and planter. We were very efficient with our time and already I could feel that my confidence working with wood, screws and general spatial sizing is improving. Equally uplifting is how friends in the neighborhood are stepping up to help – Rae with the car and Carlos with the saw. 

The final installation happened only six days after the construction began. How's that for a turnaround!

The enthusiasm from social media continues to fuel me too!

Library Prototyping at Willoughby General

The lending library crate has been up for three days now at Willoughby General. Barbara and Rae have been taking it inside at night and when it was drizzling. Otherwise, it's wide open for people to see and touch. 

Day 1: Crate full of the books I found. Within five minutes of me placing the crate on the bench, a man paused to look through the books. He considered taking one book (Barbara and I were inside the store at the time).

Day 2: Books have already been added! Rae wrote "library" in bold chalk on the sidewalk. She also posted an Instagram photo on behalf of @willoughbygeneral. Likes were numerous and comments were positive. One even inquired: "are y'all going to register it with littlefreelibrary.org? I'm about to build one for my neighborhood because there aren't any close by!" 

Night 2: There's demand for the library during off-hours! Books were left outside of the store.

Day 3: A few more books, with a bunch of CDs stored inside Willoughby General because they won't fit in the crate. Barbara joked that "we'll have to change the sign to say you must take a book if you are to give a book!"

This day, Saturday, is also when I debuted the permanent box I constructed. As I was priming it outside, multiple people paused to talk with me. In particular, a bottle collector oohed and awed at the book assortment and was utterly delighted to find The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes. She explained to me how much she loves books and that she often listens to books on tapes when she's on her route even though "people probably think I'm listening to rap music." She said that when she swings by this route next Saturday, she'll bring a bunch of books that she has at home. 

A gentleman working on his car chatted with me a few times and eventually approached me to see what I was up to. He said he recognizes me and that I often walk across the basketball courts on my way to the train, which is true. He also gave me his business card for backyard and basement removals for my to give to my first floor neighbors.

It's so darn gratifying to see this object working its magic. If not for its physical manifestation and its communal purpose, I'd never be having conversations with these people!

Crate Prototype

Throughout this thesis project, I have had continued anxiety about how my thesis work will be perceived in my neighborhood. Despite logically acknowledging that I needed to get out of my head and go talk to people and make things, it's been an arduous struggle. 

After consulting with an alumnus of my program, I finally was jumpstarted to test out another idea. That idea is of a lending library, like a Little Free Library. But I ran into a chicken-egg situation. How do I ask the cafe owners of my neighborhood to consider posting a lending library if I can't demonstrate it's physicality and potential. Initially I was convinced I must construct the library myself. Eventually I figured out that a makeready would be an efficient compromise.

I bought a wooden crate from Home Depot and laser cut a sign that reads "Bed-Stuy Lending Library. Give an item, Take an item." I gathered a bunch of books that could be donated and marched over to ReConnect Cafe to see if they'd be game to test out the lending library. It was pretty cool to see my idea in physical form and living outside of a cafe! Even a woman outside remarked what a neat concept it was. But upon chatting with the barista Ephraim, he said that the manager was uneasy about the loitering that could occur.

Loitering, eh? His fears are completely logical. But one man's loitering is another man's gathering. To loiter is to gather and be up to no good. Gathering is a positive social happening, for constructive and community outputs.

ReConnect's hesitation, which I respect, fueled me to test the idea out to my other two connections. I went over to Willoughby General and co-owner Rae immediately loved the idea. She even pointed to the devoted lending library she keeps in the store. She's game for the prototype and for an official and permanent outdoor structure.

 Barbara and Rae – co-owners of Willoughby General. Photo credit @willoughbygeneral

Barbara and Rae – co-owners of Willoughby General. Photo credit @willoughbygeneral

Next stop: Brooklyn Blend. I caught Keishon when he was mopping the floors. He loves the library idea too! He called me "the ideas woman" and genuinely seems to appreciate the energy and ideas I'm bringing to his new cafe. It feels really nice for him to respond so warmly to me and for him to tell me that he values me. He even invited me to join him on a trip to the lumber yard next week because he's headed down there to find materials for benches and planters he wants to make. He thinks I could find some good reclaimed wood to use to create the library, so that it matches the style of the exterior of the cafe. How cool! Below is my mock-up of the cafe with the crate.

What if I posted outside of bodega's too? The angle of the photo is courtesy of the kind gentleman who took my photo.

Big takeaways:

  • Stop swimming in mental scenarios. Go. Do. Make.
  • Having conversations with my potential partners makes all the difference. That's where the energy, momentum and compassion lies.
  • Physical prototypes allow better understanding of ideas and allow testing of some criteria.
  • No idea amounts to anything if someone doesn't take the first step.

 

Sidewalk Survey

I spend a lot of time thinking about neighborhoods and how relationships are formed. What I'm not doing is getting these thoughts from neighborhood residents! In all honesty, I am very anxious about confronting people and asking them about how they feel. I'm overly aware of my white gentrifier status and do not like the idea of stopping strangers to ask them direct questions. But I have to give it a go anyway!

I created a trifold board, with questions about neighborhood impressions and what they'd like to see change. I also included a map of the immediate vicinity, with the option of using dot stickers to map places they liked, they didn't like, and those that had potential to be liked.

First, I stood on my street corner and solicited responses from people during their morning commute. Most people passed by me, but I did get a few responses from some people.

This public solicitation was deeply uncomfortable for me, so I decided to attach the survey to the park fence. When I returned a couple hours later, it had a few responses.

  • In particular, someone had drawn arrows to a few comments and labelled them as racist.
  • In answering how many neighbor's names they knew on their block: "whites will not intermingle with Black folks."
  • A note was also written that the neighborhood needed "less cafes/Starbucks which attract white people, and more bodegas which serve low income folks (read: Black people)."

When I returned home that evening, the poster was taken down, without any remaining evidence. I can only speculate why.

Lessons learned:

  • Asking questions of strangers is a really difficult and uncomfortable interaction
  • My ideal thesis design would trigger interaction without a person mediating the experience
  • There are racial tensions in the neighborhood
  • Installing something on public park property is likely to be taken down. Not sure if it was a disgruntled person, a vandalizer, or a park employee. Either way, it's a lesson that public space has limitations when it comes to installation.

Mapping for Insights

Our thesis semester is structured so that once a week we meet with our advisor, in the context of a small group with five classmates. Separately we schedule private thirty-minute tutorials with a writing advisor.

At this week's recent meeting, I led a mapping exercise with my classmates and professor to glean insights about what it means to be a resident of a neighborhood. I prompted them to sketch their mental map of their neighborhood and highlight the places that they frequented, favorited, and avoided. I then verbally asked each of them to describe some of the map features and answer follow-up questions. 

I'm fully aware that my data is biased because I've polled educated unmarried transient residents as my case study (besides my professor who has lived multiple years in her home).

Here are the main insights from the activity:

  • Three  of the non-Manhattan students feel like outsiders in their neighborhood and they do not know anyone's name
    • Their activities in their neighborhoods – Journal Square, Flushing and Bushwick/Bed-Stuy – are based on utility
  • Walking routes are strategically decided based on feeling 
    • Janson always takes the longer route home to avoid the quiet street and walk past the commercial area
    • Isa wants to pass the Japanese coffee vendor who says hello
    • Lara walks quickly through the area right around the subway because it's so crowded
    • Sneha's actions are based on convenience
  • Small talk, especially on a sidewalk, is awkward
  • Turned off by parades for their culture (i.e. Indian and Brazilian) because it feels phony
  • It feels good when people remember your name
    • Lara deeply values the weak ties with her bodega man, nail salon, gym, laundromat, etc
    • Janson likes that the coffee shop knows his order
  • Isa avoids some places because she thinks the proprietor might remember her and then strike up an awkward conversation.
  • Isa appreciates have an activity or reason to go somewhere. For example, she went to a book club by herself because she was interested in the book and in being surrounded by like minds. She also appreciated having access to event details on Facebook.

Final question I asked: Do you want more neighborhood connection?

  • Yes: Lara, Ricardo, Alix
  • Neutral: Janson (he's satisfied with his school community)
  • Only if Utilitarian: Sneha


Tompkins Map

I mapped out the five blocks of Tompkins Ave by hand in order to actively understand how I perceive the neighborhood and where I place value. I started the exercise with the intention of marking the paths, edges, nodes, districts and landmarks à la Kevin Lynch, but ended up highlighting the different types of structures. My color-coding differentiates between residence, retail or utility businesses, food service, churches (there are five!), parks and areas of construction. I also added notes of interactions and the names of people that correspond to a given building.

Tompkins Avenue

My thesis is only four months long. Which means the scope of where I'm trying to create change needs to be decidedly narrow and strategic. I am currently focusing my thesis explorations in a five-block strip of Tompkins Ave. 

My main reason for this geographic location is because I live just off of Tompkins and feel invested in making the neighborhood a place where strangers can connect in some way. I also have had some positive interactions with business owners that motivate me to want to develop partnerships with them.

On a recent balmy day (61°!), I took a bunch of photographs of the five-block stretch of Tompkins Ave in Bed-Stuy, between Vernon Ave and Kosciusko Street. 


Build on what I know?

I was struck by two pieces of thesis advice this week. One was a suggestion that I explore other means of social interaction, such as a park bench that, by design, forces people to interact. Another said I should keep doing what comes so easy to me – paper correspondence – and make that a cornerstone of my project. Thus, the question is: to what degree should my masters thesis be about exploring new territory and how much of it is about digging deeper and making more official my passions?

I don't know how to make a bench. I could try, but I know that it wouldn't have the fidelity that I'd ultimately want and it would take me a long time.

But I do so much card-making and personalized treats already. Can I really make that a design thesis? Or do I need to get out of my shame of thinking arts and crafts are silly, and actually investigate how they can be a designed tactic for community-building?

Below is a little initiative I started at school, with the following three directions:

  1. Grab a heart card from the bulletin board and write a note to someone showing your affection. Add card to the envelope with that person's name. Should you sign your name? That's for you to decide!
  2. Repeat
  3. At the end of next week, everyone can pick up their mini envelope and have a heaving stack of love notes from your classmates. How lovely.


Card-Making at Bed-Stuy Cafe

I hosted the card-making session on 2/10/16 at Brooklyn Blend Cafe! I’d rate it a 7 out of 10. As a community resident, I got a lot out of the event. I interacted with more than twenty people, for whom I’d never otherwise have a reason to converse. Below is my initial list of insights and critiques.

 

Set-Up

  • Advertising via a poster in the window and on one side of the sandwich board, facing south (not facing north toward people walking back from the Myrtle-Willoughby stop)

  • The cafe co-owners confirmed that they’d post images and captions I had prepared on Instagram and Twitter, but they never did. I’m not sure why and I didn’t want to press them on it since I was grateful to have the space.

  • The co-owner Keishon said I could do whatever I wanted when I arrived. I set up the card-making at two tall tables next to the window looking out to the street so that passersby could see me.

 

Interactions

  • 6 year old who was hanging outside with his guardian. I walked out and invited him in. His mom/guardian looked relieved. While she smoked a cigarette, he made a couple cards with me. He was very eager and wide-eyed, and loved having free reign over so much choice. I helped him personalize a card for his mom, meanwhile his mom/guardian was trying to get him to leave and was telling me about how she was in a car accident yesterday and why her arm was in a sling.

  • 8th grade cousins Donald and Artesia, from Trinidad, were giddy with excitement with all the card potential. They each made three or four cards and hardly left any white space at all. They delighted in the fact that I was willing to do lettering and cutting for them. They would point to a sample card I had on the juice bar and then request what version of it I was to do for them. I asked each of them how many siblings they had and they both responded with “a lot.” The girl Artesia said she only had one sibling living in New York with her. They were about to embark on seven days off from school for mid-winter recess.

  • Three high schoolers who were taking a break from a dance rehearsal for an upcoming Black History performance at the church next door. The two boys (friends, not brothers) explained to me that all four of their parents were deaf. I explained that I knew a bit of sign language and they were impressed. They taught me how to sign “you’re welcome.” I asked their permission to take a photo and they readily accepted. One of the boys then had his girlfiend, who was with them and for whom he was making his Valentine, find and friend me on Instagram so he could give me credit when he posts a photo of his card. They invited me to their show and wrote down the details on a piece of paper.

  • Twice a group of cops walked in. The first time, there were two men and two women. I was able to entice one of the women to make a card. She had me do most of the writing and cutting, while she sipped on her smoothie. The card was for her daughter Marley, “as in Bob Marley” she said, which launched me into describing my moment on the subway that day hearing a mother call her children Hendrix and Guthrie Arrow. There was another mom cop but she didn’t want to make a card.

  • I’d say maybe four times someone was walking toward the bathroom and I asked if they wanted to make a card and they said no thanks.

  • The only white person to engage with me was a man in his early thirties. He came in somewhat dazed and asked what I was doing. I explained that I was working on my masters thesis about how design can foster interaction with neighbors you otherwise wouldn’t have. He still seemed dazed. He looked at a menu and then said goodbye to me as he left. He’s the only person I used the word “masters thesis” with.

  • Lisenia, the cashier, came over to the table four times to ponder her card. She made a card using pages from the Pride and Prejudice calendar. We bonded over our love of Jane Austen and she explained that she was an English and World Lit major at Marymount Manhattan and that she lives in Coney Island.

  • “Magic Mike,” who has a lovely Caribbean accent of sorts, made me a beet mango smoothie that he called a Valentine’s Special. He was delighted that I gave him choice of any of the sample cards. He spent a while writing a long card to someone.

  • I met Ralph behind the counter.

  • Cafe regular Mary greeted me when she came in, saying she remembered me from a few days before and that she thought the card event was on Sunday.

  • My good friend Camila came at the very end to make a card.

  • I felt welcome and comfortable at the cafe, but didn’t know what the food etiquette was. When I asked Mike for a smoothie, he made me a special one and then as I handed him my credit card, he said, no no. At the very end of the evening, Lisania said Keishon wanted to know if I’d like food and I think I was ready to go home so my answer was “no thanks, I’m not hungry. Mike’s smoothie was just right.”

  • Keishon ended the evening apologizing for not being fully present during the session because he had a meeting down the street. He thanked me for approaching them and explained that things have been hectic since they opened three weeks ago. He said “nex time we do something, it’ll be even better.”

 

Insights

  • No one came to the cafe for card-making specifically. They just happened to be in the cafe.

  • Doing a common activity gave me social permission to talk with these people and ask them questions.

  • Having sample cards to point to for examples made it much easier for people to visualize what design they could do

  • When I got playful or teasing with people, younger kids and adults alike, they responded positively.

  • A few people asked questions such as

    • Do you work here?

    • What are you doing here?

    • What’s your reason for hosting this?

    • Most people seemed satisfied with my answer that I wanted to interact with people and that crafting is something that I enjoy

    • One kid asked me “you go to art school or something?”

  • The only person I used the term “masters thesis” with was the one white man around my age that I interacted with

 

Next Time

  • Consider a different activity, maybe one that’s more approachable, relevant, desired or fun?

  • Improve the pre-event advertising. To make an event lasting or desired, I think buildup and awareness is important.

  • Be more upfront with Keishon and Ali about social media advertising and such

  • Have a friend take official photographs for better quality recording

  • Maybe advertise more in advance

  • If I want to reach more people in the neighborhood in their 20s and 30s, I might have to make it a different type of event.

They said yes!

I went back to the newly opened cafe to ask if I could host a Valentine's Day card-making party in their space, for free. The two owners readily agreed! They've responded positively to everything I proposed and I'm getting jazzed for the Thursday, Feb 11 event.

Logistics:

  • 5-8pm on a Thursday
  • Promotion through a poster in the window, hand-drawn text on a sandwich board, and photos of Valentine's for social media
  • Myself and a friend made more than a dozen samples. In doing so, we were reminded how important it is to have examples for people to reference. Facing a pile of blank paper is daunting. Now attendees can be inspired. I will also ensure that many of the supplies are pre-cut to avoid any confusion, frustration or paper waste.
  • Prepare questions and conversation starters for attendees

Hypothesis:

  • The shared activity of making cards will break down social barriers between people and give permission for engagement and conversation that otherwise would never have occurred.

Objectives:

  • Test hypothesis
  • Chat with neighbors and get a feel for what they are looking for in a community and their reaction to social capital (I probably won't use that word to describe my research)
  • Enjoy a fun craft session
  • Photograph and record
  • Develop a solid relationship with the cafe, with the hope for continued partnership down the road


Joy of being remembered

A juicery/cafe just opened a couple blocks from my apartment in Bed-Stuy. I went there recently to do work and upon seeing me take a photo with my phone, one of the owners approached me to introduce himself and to ask that I tag any such media with their hashtag @BKYLNBLEND. I said of course! and that I was actually creating a Yelp entry for the cafe.

When I returned a few days later, I met the co-owneer. I started the conversation with “I don’t think we’ve met…” and before I could finish my sentence he stated, “you sat over at that table and stared our Yelp account.” Wow. How wonderful it felt that I was recognized and remembered. This feeling of significance (opposite of anonymity) is why I seek out small businesses. Right there, it was a small interaction, but now I want to go back more and develop the status of a regular.

While meeting with my advisor Lara, she too shares this satisfaction of connecting with these business owners in her neighborhood. She explained that in a sense, "We both need to like each other” and that it's the minutia of everyday life that is the hardest to adjust to when you move, because you have to rebuild all these small moments. 

There’s nothing like being recognized by the vendors in my neighborhood. I love it.
— Lara Penin





Designed objects and experiences

What are the designed objects, experiences and events that trigger social interaction or connection in a neighborhood. Below is an initial attempt to visualize some of these designs. I classified them based on two spectrums: shallow connection vs. deep connection, and natural vs. designed. 

Matrix.jpg