Little Free Library: Constructed lending libraries posted outside of homes. Passersby are encouraged to leave a book or take a book. It's a design object that facilitates community connection, albeit at a distance. These boxes are less about introducing people to one another, but they demonstrate neighborhood value and respect for installations. They can become stimulus for conversation and connection. Furthermore, the boxes can be registered in a nationwide registry, amplifying their gravitas and stickiness.
Pulse of the City: An interactive public art installation on sidewalks that turns pedestrians' heartbeats into music.
Hello Lamp Post: Interactive scavenger hunt that connects people's cell phones to public infrastructure. Serial codes and other number demarkations on the pieces of infrastructure trigger conversations between human users.
Hostess Gifts: Personalized thank you pencils to give out when traveling abroad with my family in 1997, back when it was cool to be American.
Free Piles: As is common in Brooklyn, when people no longer want something but value it enough not to throw it away, they will leave items outside of their home on the sidewalk. Some of the best items can be procured for free. Early morning is best!
Public Refrigerators: Recent initiatives in India, Spain and Argentina demonstrate how leftover food can be left in sidewalk refrigerators. The refrigerators are commonly powered by an adjoining restaurant and institution. With minimal rules, people naturally figure out a system of sharing.
Time Banks: Regardless of skill-level or market rates, time banks value every person's time equally. You accrue hours and "cash" in hours in this localized and managed barter system.
Candy Chang: Artist that creates art installations in public space to trigger dialogue and display collective sentiment. The grandeur and boldness of her aesthetics are very eye-popping. So too are the depth of her inquiries, but her questioning does not often lead to resolution or even further action steps.
Community Census: Interactive public street installation that captures community perceptions around key neighborhood amenities, resources and issues. Collected data is aggregated into crowd-sourced "community perception maps" to be used to pinpoint opportunities for neighborhood growth.
PieLab: Experiment in a downtrodden part of Birmingham, AL to hand out slices of pie in order to gather people to talk about ideas. Born out of the design collective known as Project M, it intends to be a combination pop-up cafe, design studio and civic clubhouse.
Digital to Physical Connectors
Couchsurfing: Digital social network that connects travelers around the world with hosts that have available couches to "surf." No money is meant to be exchanged, instead, the focus is on sharing unique cultural experiences. When I lived in Los Angeles from 2010-2014, I hosted six sets of couchsurfers with my roommates. It was such a delight to share time and perspectives with people around the globe.
EatWith: Digital social network that promotes dinner parties at people's private homes. Anyone with a profile can ask to be part of a dinner, and once accepted, pays through the website.
NextDoor: Private social network based on where you live. Creates the potential to connect with neighbors for such things as babysitters, upcoming events, or spreading the news about a break-in. Requires active engagement and buy-in.
Events and Experiences
Neighborday: The organization GOOD established a make believe holiday called Neighborday in order to encourage people to go outside their comfort zones (emotionally and physically) and meet their community. I absolutely loved the idea and led two initiatives in April 2013. One was a block party at my apartment where I literally knocked on unknown doors. At work, I encouraged people to hand draw maps of their community. Both events gathered submissions upwards of forty! I designed a series of postcards and flyers, as well as personally knocked on strangers doors to invite them to participate.
Block parties: Planned events for residents on a particular block, normally organized by a block association
Literary Feast: The crowd-funded neighborhood association of Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. hosts annual Literary Feasts. Residents sign up to host dinners in their homes based off of a book of their choice, be in a chocolate-themed menu for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or a gothic-decorated dinner for poems by Edgar Allan Poe. Attendance is open to anyone who buys a ticket (minimum $100 donation), and at the end of the evening everyone gathers in one location for dinner. In 2015, 37 dinners were simultaneously hosted.
Laundromat Project: Currently operating in certain neighborhoods of Brooklyn and the Bronx, this non-profit offers arts programming in laundromats. It leverages the set time and routine of frequenting a laundromat each week and layers creative opportunity on top of it.
Project for Public Spaces: Nonprofit planning, design and educational organization with the mission to "help people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities. Their placemaking approach helps citizens transform their public spaces into vital places that highlight local assets, spur rejuvenation and serve common needs."
Neighbor.ly: Website that promotes and aggregates local support for community projects
Pay it Forward: Concept that when someone does a good deed or kind gesture to you, you selfless pass it on to another person, without any expectation in return. This website promotes this social practice, tracks the movement and encourages other people to pay it forward.
Design Trust for Public Space: Incubator that transforms and evolves public space with city agencies and community collaborators.
Transition Mar Vista/Venice: I was an active member, host, and web designer for the Venice Beach chapter of the global Transition Towns network. Born out of collective passion to fight against oil fracking and promote sustainable lifestyles, the Venice group hosts regular potlucks, maintains a public garden, leads many educational workshops, and rallies around community-building. Being a part of this group solidified my interest in pursuing an MFA.
Peter Block: Structures for Belonging. Expert in community-building.
David Harvey: Expert on the relationship between urban design and social justice
Jane Jacobs: Evangelist of pedestrian- and community-focused neighborhoods in which strangers are connected and there's a small town feel in the big city.
Kevin Lynch: Proponent of mapping paths, edges, nodes, districts and landmarks to study what motivates people's actions in a neighborhood.
Enzo Manzini: Investigates the role everyone can play in social innovation in cities
Ray Oldenburg: Expert on the idea and significance of the "third place" in communities.
Robert Putnam: Historian positing that American communities are fractured and that it's critical that neighborhoods focus on re-building social captial
Holly Whyte: Expert on how we navigate small urban spaces. Known for his theory of triangulation, which looks at how designed spaces, experiences and objects prompt interaction between strangers