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.