The Design Difference: How You Can Propose Ideas for Brownsville The Design Difference: How You Can Propose Ideas for Brownsville

The Design Difference: How You Can Propose Ideas for Brownsville

by Alissa Walker

February 9, 2011

In early November, dozens of designers, activists, and urban leaders convened for The Design Difference, a problem-solving workshop to develop fresh ideas and creative thinking for Brownsville, an underserved urban neighborhood in Brooklyn. 

Armed with the 27 concepts across six categories like health, food, and retail, Valerie Casey, who led the charrette, met with stakeholders from Common Ground to refine the concepts into five "priority areas." Common Ground has been working on the ground in Brownsville for years, and its founder Rosanne Haggerty, who was named as a 2001 recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Grant, is well-known for her transformative nonprofit and its innovative methods for battling homelessness. 

Five Opportunities for Change

Since this outline was created, some change is already happening, says Haggerty. "Since the charrette, we've zeroed in on making the assets and spirit of Brownsville more visible—a combination of "branding Brownsville" by getting the "Hope Is Inside" message communicated in all our organizing activities," she says. Brownsville has also started working on the "DIY/Community Involvement" front, says Haggerty. "Our amazing director, Greg Jackson, now organizes groups of young people each Saturday morning for a community clean up," she says. "The young people are proud to do it, and they are getting so much positive feedback from residents."

How You Can Take Action

With the five priority areas laid out, the charrette has now moved into its most important phase: Engaging the design community in these solution areas. "We will need help in refining the ideas and figuring out how to implement them for little or no cost," says Haggerty. "That will certainly mean enlisting designers to contribute their talents, suppliers to contribute materials, and lots of people to contribute their time and concern in building up this special neighborhood." Common Ground is looking for creative input from designers and architects who can craft specific design responses to the charrette's findings. Here's how you can help:

If you're a design firm and you want to contribute pro bono work for Brownsville, register with The 1% and send an email to designdifference[at]japansociety[dot]org with the subject line Design Firm alerting our team that you're ready to be matched with a Brownsville client.

If you're a designer or architect and you want to submit a design proposal for one of the five priority areas, send an email to designdifference[at]japansociety[dot]org with the subject Design Proposal and include a brief summary of your idea for Brownsville, as well as a link to your work.

If you'd like to volunteer or if you have resources to donate for an upcoming workday to help implement one of the ideas, send an email to designdifference[at]japansociety[dot]org with the subject Volunteer and you'll be added to a future email list with more information about how you can get involved.

And if you're interested in holding a similar workshop for a community near you, the entire charrette process engineered by Valerie Casey, from the schedule to various worksheets, has been made publicly available. (In fact, the charrette format itself has already been used by one of the participants, R. Streitmatter-Tran, who adapted the Brownsville model to an exercise for his design students in Vietnam.) For more background, you can also read about our research trip to Brownsville, see photos of the charrette, and download the charrette materials yourself: Here's the Workshop Outline (PDF), the Brainstorming Map (PDF), and the Concept Worksheet (PDF).

Thanks again to the Japan Society for inviting GOOD to be a part of such a interesting experiment. And a very special thanks to Ayumi Sakamoto for her beautiful photos of the process. We'll be following this story, and what we hope are many exciting developments for the residents of Brownsville.

Photos by Ayumi Sakamoto

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The Design Difference: How You Can Propose Ideas for Brownsville