GOOD Design Bay Area: Solving Six Urban Problems GOOD Design Bay Area: Solving Six Urban Problems

GOOD Design Bay Area: Solving Six Urban Problems

by Alissa Walker

October 30, 2010

Our first challenge was submitted by Lisa Frazier, President/CEO of The Bay Citizen, a fantastic new independent publication. She wondered what the role of the public square was in the post-digital city. How do we increase civic engagement when we don't always engage with our neighbors? There were perhaps no better designers to tackle this issue than Ben Barry and Lee Byron, who are both great graphic designers who currently work at Facebook. Barry and Byron looked at the traditional billboard as an important physical way to see announcements, posting and other information, but wanted to find a way to integrate that with our "virtual billboards," including—of course—Facebook.


Molly Sterkel of the California Public Utilities Commission presented our second challenge: How to get more Bay Area residents to install solar water heaters on their homes. Even though some homeowners know it was better for the planet and that it might be able to save them money, most people are doubtful that the sun, especially in San Francisco, could actually heat up their water sufficiently. So Kate Lydon and Anton Willis of Civil Twilight focused at the skepticism from homeowners and design solutions that could prove to them that it does indeed work with the campaign "Go Solar." They created "hot spots" throughout San Francisco where solar heaters could provide unique and memorable experiences using hot water. And of course the most prime locations were the chilly beaches on the western side of the city, where solar-powered showers could provide warm post-surf showers.

Lydon and Willis proposed other experiences, like warm-water fountains for children to play in, and pop-up cafes that could be set up in urban areas to show people that, indeed, San Francisco could produce warm, even hot, water from the sun. To the great delight of everyone in attendance, Lydon and Willis presented a concept for "Go Solar"-branded tea bags, which would be given away at the cafes. Coincidentally, a new pilot program was launched in the city where some homeowners were given free solar water heaters and it just so happened that Lydon and Willis were part of the program. It was meant to be.

By paying special attention to the alleyways and surfaces between the buildings, people would find themselves exploring the buildings and experiencing their height instead of hating it. Sand called for skyways and balconies that would zig zag high up onto the buildings, creating patterns that would shift and change based on where people were located on the street. These would also help frame the sky in ways that would be almost artful. Perhaps most importantly, said Sand, the balconies should be filled with public gardens and terraces that help to assert height as a "green" action. People would be drawn up and into the buildings to experience the beauty of density.


Kevin Connolly of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority had a very interesting challenge that may surprise you: progressive Silicon Valley has some of the lowest public transit ridership rates in the country. Josh To and Dru Truong presented the work of Brute Labs, who tackled the challenge by looking at it from both a business and environmental angle. They looked for the group with the highest opportunity for growth, and that's definitely the business and college commuters who currently drive to their jobs at places like Google and Adobe. Their plan is to get these people on the bus with tech-friendly touches and a message that would help show them riding the bus can actually be a luxury.

First, Brute Labs suggested rerouting the buses into a hub and spoke model that was more oriented to where the commuters wanted to go. This would get people closer to their destinations quicker and allow them to bike the shorter final distance. They also suggested tapping the brain trust of the area to evaluate routes and change them often according to collected data. But the second change was more behavioral: They realized that while those business commuters know the environmental benefits as well as the fact that taking the bus could free up some extra time, they're also affluent people who would happily pay for additional services. So Brute Labs proposed a concierge for bus riders, who could use dry cleaning and postal services, and personal touches like reserved seating, wi-fi, and gourmet snacks so the tech-savvy folks wouldn't feel like they were slumming it.

First, Singer wanted to make more trailers more visible, even in times of non-disaster, perhaps by permanently sitting in school parking lots. When disaster strikes, a balloon could be deployed that would allow relief stations to become more visible to someone on the ground. Smaller emergency pods, which could help provide basic needs to people stranded in urban areas, could be stashed in advertising kiosks, bus shelters and park infrastructure, along with signage and other information about what to do. Pods could also be placed in apartment buildings—Singer proposed a white bin like the blue ones for recycling—and owners could be incentivized to stock them. Finally Singer proposed a massive campaign that would play out on paper grocery bags, reminding homeowners to stock up, but also providing detailed directions on what to do that they could keep handy.

At the close of the program, I was excited to announce that we're launching our next GOOD Design school program in partnership with the MFA graphic design school at the Academy of Art University, right down the street in San Francisco. That will be starting up in the spring, so watch here for updates from talented students. Finally a big thanks to everyone who invited us back! We were thrilled to once again be hosted by SPUR and AIA SF, who sure know how to gather an engaged audience who knows how to ask smart questions. And they also know how to throw one heck of an after-party. Thank you to all the designers and leaders who were involved, and we'll see you at the next GOOD Design!

GOOD Design pairs designers with city problems proposed by urban leaders, and showcases the solutions at lively public forums. Events have been held in Los Angeles, San Francisco (twice!), New York, at the annual conference of CEOs for Cities, and with Art Center College of Design and Ringling College of Art and Design. If you'd like to bring GOOD Design to your city or school, let us know!

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GOOD Design Bay Area: Solving Six Urban Problems