Random Act of Kindness

I love making and sending letters. I love it because of the way it makes me feel to send a splash of color to someone’s day, and I love the warmth I feel when I receive something. It’s a designed artifact that connects people. So I put it to the test in my neighborhood.

I prepared five notecards and paired them each with a postage-stamped and pre-addressed postcard. Each note was of slight variance, using words such as “I’m doing a social experiment,” “my friend just moved to the city and doesn’t believe New Yorkers are kind, can you help me change that?” I introduced myself as a neighbor and asked them to send the postcard. I signed them all with Cameron.

I stuck the cards in five doorways on my street. It’s three weeks since I left them, and I have not heard from any of my friends that they received cards. I addressed the cards to five friends by their first name only, and did not tell them that they might be receiving cards. My assumption is that should they receive a postcard, they would ask me if I knew anything about a random note from a stranger because a) they might recognize my handwriting in the address and b) I’m notorious for postcards and random little notes in the mail.

Design for Social Capital

This blog will serve as a running log of thoughts, terms and experiments as I pursue my MFA thesis in Transdisciplinary Design program from Parsons School of Design.

My thesis is centered on neighborhoods and the potential of human relations to foster common trust and kindness. Particularly, I'm focusing on transitory neighborhoods where people of different backgrounds – race, length of residence, age, religion, lifestyle, etc – live in the same geographic space. From my personal experience feeling as an outsider (or quite frankly, a white affluent hipster) in my Bed-Stuy neighborhood, I'm fascinated as to how I can feel more connected to my neighborhood. Just as curious is whether my neighbors also seek connection and if so, how.

My project investigates the role design can play in fostering human connection in neighborhoods. Primarily, I'm exploring how designed objects, experiences and spaces can create an interaction that leads to a human connection. 

Why the fuss about relationships with strangers? Because connecting with the people around you can bolster social capital. Social capital is defined by Robert Putnam as "connections among individuals - social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them." (2000).

I believe that social capital is a critical asset for a community because it emphasizes reciprocity, kindness and nondiscrimination. And by increasingly these values in a neighborhood, it becomes a more productive place to live, particularly in the variables of happiness, economy, safety and desirability.