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August 25, 2018

Camaro, Camiros| Adam Chuong | MID Industrial Design 2019

by adamchuong

On August 15th, members of DARE’s Tenant and Homeowner Association, What Cheer? Brigade, and I staged a press conference/action and political theatre outside of Rhode Island Housing. The purpose of the action was to call attention to RI Housing’s handling of the Barbara Jordan II “redevelopment” project. RI Housing had hired Camiros Ltd, a Chicago consulting firm, to conduct community engagement on the “revitalization” of Barbara Jordan II (also known as Clowntown for its colorful appearance) a recently foreclosed, 74 unit low-income housing project in South Providence.

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Roline Burgess, a DARE member, spoke about her experience working to help a former tenant of Barbara Jordan II find housing, when RI Housing couldn’t help her.

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Me and Eli Nixon, prepping for the political theatre.

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Me in the Camiros Camaro running over DARE members, representing the exclusion of DARE members from the redevelopment process.

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For me, this protest has been an interesting point for me to reflect on my own design process and political stances. Specifically, I’m interested in thinking more about how community work and design can intersect in a meaningful way that values voices of community members.

Of the myriad of reasons for how RI Housing poorly handled the process of redeveloping Barbara Jordan II, I was particularly offended by the lack of due diligence RI Housing did in understanding the history of Barbara Jordan II and who picked up the pieces when they foreclosed on it. Their hiring of an outside consulting firm, rather than truly engaging with community members and organizers as the experts, speaks to their stance on whose voices are valued. DARE and other Providence organizations have been working on housing and helping tenants of Barbara Jordan II long before it foreclosed, and as Malchus Mills, a DARE board member put it, “we have data out the ears” when it comes to the housing needs of low-income Providence residents. It seems disingenuous and performative to hire an outside consulting firm and funnel RI money into other organizations, rather than back to our community.

There are also some thoughts that have been forming in my head around how, as someone who wants to live at the intersection of design and community work, to present oneself as being aware of the pitfalls of design and how design has historically served capitalist ends and not necessarily community needs. How do I describe the work I do to other designers, without playing the legitimation game and using design buzzwords like “leverage” and “stakeholders”?

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