Transformative Design Takes Hold at the Astin Jacobo Center in the Bronx

This past Saturday, nearly a hundred people packed into the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center to share and build support for a new kind of development project. Led by the New Crotona Coalition, the Astin Jacobo Center will bring to life a new food hub, maker space, classrooms, music recording studio and co-working space in a vacant building located in center field of a baseball field in the Crotona section of the Bronx. The project exemplifies what's possible through Designing the WE's Transformative Design process.  

Future site of the Astin Jacobo Center in Crotona.

How this opportunity came to be has a long history that includes the systemic forces that led to the destruction of 90% of the neighborhood’s housing stock, the community organizing that rebuilt the neighborhood and turned the rubble of this block into a baseball field, and the design process Designing the WE was brought in to lead. Beginning in the spring of 2016, dtW implemented our design curriculum with a series of nine Friday evening classes for the young people and staff of the Center.   

Beginning with their own current experiences and working backwards through the eras of broken windows policing, disinvestment, fires, epidemics, racial change, urban renewal, and the building and dismantling of the Third Avenue El, the young people and staff identified challenges, opportunities and the actions they could take in response. They also interviewed neighborhood elders about how the neighborhood had changed over the years. A common theme was how development projects were typically controlled by people outside the neighborhood. 

After exploring examples of innovative economic development models, the youth and staff identified a number of values they wanted to be present in the new development. Specifically, the group agreed that the building should house a cooperatively owned, inter-generational space where elders could train young people in practical skills that could help them both express their creativity and launch businesses. In other words, this building should be the hub of a new ecosystem that connects people and their projects and businesses in a cooperative and collaborative manner, addressing and undesigning decades of systemic racism and structural inequality -- exactly what our WElabs are designed to generate

Three small groups brainstormed and sketched ideas. One group designed Mapes360, a makerspace that would house wood and metal shopping equipment along with 3D printers and other technology. Another group centered their design around a shared commercial kitchen that could both provide healthy food to people in the neighborhood and launch small businesses. A third group looked at classrooms and performance spaces that allowed people to connect in a myriad of ways.

In early June, the staff and young people presented early sketches to key neighborhood leaders. Since then, they have been out conducting hundreds of surveys and building broader support for the project.

This fall, architects were brought in to turn the visions into tangible drawings. On Saturday, they young people and staff presented the project proposal to large crowd that included Representative Jose Serrano and City Councilmember Richie Torres, both who have pledged their support. Designing the WE is thrilled to participate in this groundbreaking project design and implementation, guiding the process with such amazing and inspiring people!


What we Learned at Our Infrastructure for the Cooperating City Salon

The Salon was co-hosted by Designing the WE, The New School, 1 Worker 1 Vote, CUNY CED Clinic and Prime Produce. It was held at the still-under-construction Prime Produce space in Hell's Kitchen.

The Salon was co-hosted by Designing the WE, The New School, 1 Worker 1 Vote, CUNY CED Clinic and Prime Produce. It was held at the still-under-construction Prime Produce space in Hell's Kitchen.

When we planed the Infrastructure for a Cooperating City Salon, we didn't know that it would take place one week after Donald Trump's ascendency to the presidency. Two things became clear. We heard from so many who are both deeply disturbed by the direction of the administration, and galvanized to get involved in making productive and positive change. 

The purpose of the workshop was to strategize infrastructure for how we do more than resist what we don't want to see in our world, but generate new visions for a more equitable economy and society capable of bridging the growing divides that have led us to this moment. For everyone present it felt clear that the time to act is now, and a key outcome of the workshop was to brainstorm concrete ways for everyone to get involved.

To facilitate this mass involvement in positive transformation, we need digital, spatial and cultural infrastructure. Digital infrastructure includes networks and platforms capable of managing and expanding a growing ecosystem of cooperatives and social value projects. We also need spaces to come together, to walk in off the street and find this work happening, and to connect as neighbors. Vitally, we need a culture of shared values and principles that ground our different work and projects in the same vision for a diverse and thriving society. 

These three forms of infrastructure -- digital, spatial and cultural -- set the framework for the workshop.

Each of three groups tackled different shared value projects currently in the WElab ecosystem. We explored Sure We Can, a collective social enterprise of those who collect cans and bottles to redeem for five cents. The canners are vulnerable due to immigration status and economic marginalization, but can continue to transform instead into sustainability leaders through their for-profit composting program, education, and community engagement. They need localized spaces for this to happen, a digital way to tell their story, and an expanding culture of sustainability that confronts the perception that canners are unwanted.


WE delved into a WElab project currently underway in the Bronx at the Mary Mitchel Community Center. They own an abandoned building that the young people at the center have been designing by addressing core neighborhood legacies like Redlining. The young people want to create spaces for intergenerational exchange that could re-stitch fraying community ties, and a maker space where they could take what is unused in the neighborhood and make it new again. How can we connect this project to others happening around the city, build neighborhood membership and use the building as a platform for spurring other investment that can repair a history of being devalued?

Third, we explored the Toronto-based Manifesto hiphop festival and education platform that will be generating a new iteration in New York as a cooperative owned by its talent, production and members. As an engine for local culture that draws thousands, it is key to use this platform to transform people from just fans and allow them to take part in the larger ecosystem of social change in the city. We discussed how we can lead people into action step by step through tools for education, cooperation and cultural production.

As a whole group, we began to see what we mean when using the term ecosystem to describe how we are changing systems and transforming the people working within them. Each of these projects are very different, but they can connect and feed off of each other in many ways. The shared infrastructure that connects them needs to be built. Of the neighbors, practitioners, project leaders, students and partners who participated in the open workshop, we learned that much of it exists and the people who can support it want to connect. In spaces like WElab the pieces are coming together. It can't happen soon enough.


Launching Identity Design Action: East New York

"The political context of this city-led reinvestment plan presents a unique opportunity for AIGA/NY to accompany public engagement and support community development, leveraging designers’ capacity to devise engaging cultural, graphic and communication strategies. It is a one-of-a-kind chance to align the New York chapter with city agencies to advance the field of creative placemaking and build up our mission: to advocate for design within the city’s civil and cultural life."


Read the full article here:

B-Corps & the Social Impact Sector

Benefit Corporations are a fast growing tool within the social impact sector. It conveys and represents to consumers and end users a company's commitment to scaling beyond just profit driven goals, but how the brand connects to an ecosystem of social impact.

Check out this article Why B Corps (Should) Kick Butt on Brand Alignment by Anne Boyle to learn more: