Interview with SC Curator Lizzie MacWillie
Building Community WORKSHOP (bcWORKSHOP), a community design center based in Texas, recently published a new resource for designers, planners, and community groups: The People’s Design Library. This new website catalogs a wide range of public interest design projects from around the world, providing examples and practical advice for designers and citizens engaging with their community.
Directing this project is Lizzie MacWillie, a Section Cut curator and the Senior Design Manager at bcWORKSHOP. SC’s Director of Content Dan Weissman and fellow SC Curator Melissa Alexander had a conversation with Lizzie to find out more about the project.
Melissa and I are excited to learn more about the People’s Design Library. It seems like there's a much richer story to this project than the resources themselves provide...tell us about how the project came to be, the whole origin story.
Sure. first, at bcWORKSHOP we have a number of projects that fall under what we call POP work, which is People Organizing Place (POP). That is what we call our grassroots planning projects. They can either stand independently as individual projects, or are often the foundation for larger neighborhood projects. POP projects are made for communities and neighborhoods to self organize and better advocate for their own needs.
POP projects are made for communities and neighborhoods to self organize and better advocate for their own needs.
An example of a POP project that we have been working on for three years is called the The POP Neighborhood Map, which will be the first comprehensive map of all the neighborhoods of Dallas, and it's all crowd-sourced from Dallas residents. We go to neighborhoods, to organization meetings and events, and ask folks to identify the geography and to draw the boundaries of their neighborhoods.
We believe this is the first step for neighborhoods that aren’t already organized, that do not have a homeowner’s association, or a crime watch organization: to start a conversation about the geography of areas of concern, and what to prioritize within the community. So far, we’ve mapped 370 neighborhoods in the city of Dallas and we are continuing to map with communities. We started an online platform where folks can draw the boundaries of their neighborhood, and we launched a website to share all the information that we have been collecting.
So you wanted to share your POP projects with other public interest designers?
The idea for the People’s Design Library came out of the conversation that I had with Brent Brown, our founding director, about how to address common concerns in neighborhoods. Things like illegal dumping, or how to deal with cars that are driving too fast driving down a street...these things that come up regularly in conversations we are having with neighborhoods. We thought about whether there could be a set of guides, cards, or a tool kit that would give ideas for addressing these common concerns.
We talked about creating that ourselves. But after looking at what other community design centers and other folks engaged with neighborhood issues have already done, it became clear that a lot of people are already addressing common concerns in cities across the United States and across the world. Rather than duplicate work that already had been done, we thought it might be more beneficial to create a resource that would aggregate guides into one place. And we still wanted to share our own guides for our POP projects so that organizers in other cities interested in doing similar work could benefit from our pool of knowledge.
Rather than duplicate work that already had been done, we thought it might be more beneficial to create a resource that would aggregate guides into one place.
When you mentioned this project, I thought it was such a good idea because it does not exist anywhere else in this form. It’s very exciting and useful to have all these resources catalogued.
How do other individuals share their work? I see the website has three different categories – the Guide Collection, Inspiration Collection and the Publication Collection...
For the Guide Collection, we thought it would also be useful to curate a sampling of completed projects to give the reader a sense of the initiatives that a community can achieve with varying degrees of design skill and time investment. The Guide Collection has a range of skill requirements...there are some projects that are relatively easy to complete and require no design abilities, and others that are more intensive and demanding.
The Inspiration Collection is intended to do exactly what it sounds like: inspire! There are lots of citizen-initiated projects out there; we want to provide examples of the wide array of projects that people have successfully implemented. Some of the projects in this collection are examples of projects that we've also provided guides to: for instance our own Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres, or PARK(ing) DAY installations from around the country. Others are fantastic projects that a neighborhood association, individual citizens, or school groups could take and adapt to their needs. Like 400 Years of History with Cardboard by Public Workshop, which took place during a two day festival and asked attendees to build replicas of historic buildings and infrastructure of Greys Ferry Crescent Park in Philadelphia, PA. It's a great way to learn about history, about how a city is built, about architecture, and to meet neighbors and people from different parts of the city. It's also just one way to learn about and represent the history of a place - I could see someone reading the 400 Years project and thinking of all kinds of adaptations and variations.
The Publication Collection makes available all of the research and printed material that bcWORKSHOP has produced over the years. To submit a resource, click the link on the front page: “To suggest a resource, use this form.” Similarly to Section Cut's interface, we want to know what the resource is, what kind of resource it is, where you can find it and a brief description, maybe why this is something that people should know about and what makes this useful, or what might the impact be of using this guide in a community.
We are always working to update the library, so we will be posting resources, a new guide, and an inspiration every two weeks, as well as our back catalog of publications. But we really like to hear other people’s ideas, or post guides that they have created themselves.
Have you posted guides for work outside of Dallas?
Yes, a lot of the guides that we have are not specific to Dallas, or were based on work in another city. We have had many submissions for making parks; for example a collaboration between the Hester Street Collaborative and Partnerships for Parks produced a guide about how to advocate for design funding for parks in their city. Some of that information is specific to New York, but there is a lot of information within that resource that is applicable to any city.
It seems like a really good opportunity to facilitate discussion between people who are interested in these topics, and who are out there engaging with communities in different ways. Is that a part of the website, a place where there is a list of people pursuing public interest design?
It isn’t right now, but I think it could be a place that links to organizations or individuals that are doing community-engaged design work. I think there is potential for this to grow into something that allows for more dialog and exchange, without replicating the work other public interest design websites are already doing. Maybe more of a repository for community design best practices.
Are there any upcoming developments for the Library?
I’ve been thinking about an opportunity to have a physical component of the Library. In addition of having a digital library, what would a physical people’s design library look like? What are all the things that people would need to have access in order to get a project done? Like a tool lending library or some kind technology or Fab Lab that the public can have access to that would further expand people’s ability to do work in their neighborhood. That is something that I am excited about—thinking about the physical-digital connection between online resources and on-the-ground implementation. It is one thing to provide the resources, and another to be able to provide the physical tools—the shovels, the drills, or whatever else, that people can actually use to implement some of this work. And also to help draw the connections between a neighbor identifying an opportunity or need, providing the tools to address that need, and working together to build the skills and knowledge to implement those tools is something that I am excited to think about in terms of the next step with the library.