Above is a picture from Temple’s Design week. It’s a pretty familiar setting for a designer. Surrounded by post-its, pictures, and poster paper, with a mix of food and work blurring the line of what sustains human life. It’s all part of the life of a designer and it’s gross and refreshing all at the same time.
The past week I had the pleasure of participating in a workshop at Temple. Every year there is week long workshop where students from Temple address a local issue. This year was Uarts’ first year being invited to join the process. Myself and the other first year students were sprinkled throughout the teams that were developed. This year’s focus was on North Broad St. and its immediate neighborhoods.
The first day of the event we were introduced to several stakeholders. These were people who either owned a business in the area, worked in innovative technologies like mobile apps programming, or worked in a local organization. We also met the director of SEPTA and Philadelphia’s Public Housing Authority. By the end of the day, we talked to each of the stakeholders individually to understand what their wants and needs were. The following two days were devoted to research and we were directed to go into the community to discover where we could intervene.
I took advantage of the time they gave us to explore. I dissected the map we were given and went to each landmark to try and really understand what made up the fabric of the community. This was a great way for me to get more familiar with Philadelphia. I also live close to this area so its pretty relevant to me.
I started at the Divine Lorraine which is right down the street from me. I love the architecture of this place. It looks like there was once a grand courtyard in the middle of the building. I did some research before my visit and found that it was a lavish apartment complex turned hotel. During its time as a hotel it had its own a restaurant and also a place of worship. It was also the first fully integrated hotel of its class in the country.
Like most of Philadelphia, its success was hinged on the success of the manufacturing industry and as that disappeared, so did the Divine’s patrons. Vacant and covered in graffiti, the hotel now stands as a reminder of what Philadelphia once was. This was a reoccurring theme while I explored the surrounding neighborhoods. But as I got closer to Temple, the tone changed. Temple has its own little bubble of economic strength supported by a bunch of twenty-somethings pursuing degrees.
On Thursday, we returned to Temple and developed teams at random. I was on a team of five that was made up of two international MBA students, one non-international MBA student, one student from a local high school for business, and myself. This was not the diverse mix I was hoping for which ended up influencing our work.
While we worked together throughout the day, we kept pace with the instructor fairly well. We generated plenty of ideas, we communicated well with each other (except for the high school student who was pretty shy), and everyone was willing to work. Our content was the only thing that was lacking. I had a hard time getting my teammates to think beyond business opportunities.
When it came time to develop a concept that addressed all of the stakeholders with-in the community and keeping our inspiration statement in consideration, the ideas fell short. The concept the team generated was an association for local businesses. This would allow businesses to hold conversations they otherwise might not have, revealing shared obstacles and opportunities. A business association is not a horrible idea but it is very singular and does not address all of the stakeholders and needs of the community.
The inspirational statement we created was: “We are inspired by the opportunity for a visual/physical concept that encompasses a positive mindset to facilitate collaboration within the community, which generates small wins.” The stakeholders we wanted to consider included children and local community members along with the business owners.
A business association does not offer a strong visual or physical representation. Nor does this address the kids, students, or residents of the community. This is where I tried to intervene.
I explained that I felt like this concept was very singular and that it did not address the stakeholders. The team understood that but had a difficult time accepting that we could create anything that could address everyone. One teammate said that we would have to focus our concept to address a few stakeholders because it would be impossible to generate a concept that would include everyone. I explained how I was a little disappointed that we spent so much time and effort up to this point to come up with this concept. I challenged their concept by asking if they felt like it addressed the safety concerns people have in the community or if it would really help someone living in the community who was a doctor and did not own a business. My teammates all of a sudden seemed stumped. After a few minutes of personal internal absorption they were able to come up with a stronger concept that would permeate to affect more of the community in a positive way.
The new concept was called “The Rebirth Initiative.” This was an opportunity for the city to turn vacant buildings into useful spaces. The idea was that people who owned properties that were abandoned or dilapidated would receive notices. The notice would inform the owners of the properties that if they did not improve there property within 2 years it would be auctioned off. We also decided to set a few constraints that would prevent outside companies from buying up all of the properties. A clause was included that would use a portion of the properties for public spaces like parks or playgrounds. These spaces would be developed by the funds generated from the auctions.
I feel like this was a much better concept. Here, vacant spaces that encourage violence and drug use are re-purposed to create a safer community. This also allows local entrepreneurs an opportunity to acquire land at prices they can afford. While I thought this seemed to be a pretty feasible, innovative idea, it was not chosen to be a finalist.
Even though we did not receive praise for our concept, I enjoyed my time at Temple. I felt like it was a good opportunity for me to practice facilitating a group. The fact that I was able to show my group how their original concept was weak and then help them develop a stronger alternative was plenty of success for me. I hope next time to be able to make that recognition and intervene earlier. This might develop stronger concepts that end up gaining traction.