The Core Mission I Hold: To Make Creative Suggestions – Jisu Yang, B.Arch, Architecture, 2021
As a month has passed since my fellowship started, the core question I had in my mind was what is the true mission I hold as the Maharam STEAM Fellow. Last week, I had a meeting with Sue Anderbois and she helped me redefine what is the true mission I want to serve as a fellow. Sue is a director of the Food Strategy and she supports a local food system and fights for anti-hunger. Her position is very unique because, witnessing problems of communication, she invented her own job in the government. She has the flexibility to work interdisciplinarily as she listens to people from different organizations and individuals of the community. She seeks opportunities where they can interact and have a partnership through innovative projects. I truly enjoyed listening to her mission as her flexibility and innovative pursuit resembled the core mission of Maharam. Over the month, I was thrilled with exciting projects and ideas that came up through visiting sites and meeting community leaders. However, as my ambition grows, I encountered numerous challenges that relate to responsibility and limits of time and budget. I am a young designer who is very passionate about working with the community. However, how should I balance the line between my limit and aspiration?
Eliza is my colleague who received a year grant for facilitating a large network of community gardens owned by the City. She is a perfect partner with me because we visit a lot of community gardeners and discuss problems together. One of the most recurring topics of the challenge was the absence of visual signage for people to identify the garden. When I visited Joslin Park Community Garden to meet Roby, who is the garden leader, she was very interested in installing physical signage. According to Roby, a lot of gardeners are unfamiliar with digital media and the way people get involved in the team is by visiting the garden in person. If there were physical signage, it would be a lot easier to gather attention from the street.
As a designer, I have a tendency to imagine what is possible when I listen to problems people have. Although it was not a request for me, here I am designing a street interactive signage for the community garden. I am planning to include chalkboard as part of the signage to write down their open garden workshops or public events. The visual description of the plant can relate to special vegetables people grow in their own garden. In other words, the template of signage can start to provide consistency and brand of community garden but still possess individuality based on the plant’s that people grow.
This is the original signage for the park and I overlaid a new design of the signage for the community garden!
So, how did I make this happen? I requested a meeting with Wendy who is a superintendent of the Parks Department. I showed her the design overlaid on existing Park signage and told her what can be possible with a simple gesture. Fortunately, she was very accepting and gave me the budget and feedback to proceed with the project! As I still have a story map project going, I will only produce signage for one community garden during this fellowship period and if it works well, it can be manufactured on a larger scale in the future. From this, I learned that creative individual works with the challenge by observing struggles people encounter and make actions through imagining what is possible in the situation.
Another mission I hold as a Maharam Fellow is to seek opportunities for partnering with other organizations for serving the need that the government cannot provide. I enjoyed visiting the Davis Park Community garden a lot and it was exciting to hear visions the leaders had in growing their garden. Nina, the garden leader, shared an interesting idea where she wants to install furniture that provides opportunities for gathering people from the park. As a buffer space, the current field between the park and the community garden is underutilized as an empty lot. By installing a shelter that also provides a sitting space, Nina imagined activating the space by installing the furniture that responds to the public park and the community garden.
A map of Davis Park Community Garden in the context of the park and urban district. The red curve indicates the space Nina imagines to have a piece of furniture for gathering people toward the garden.
As an architecture student, I was really interested in working with Nina to design furniture. As I presented the idea, I encountered challenges. My position as an intern in the Botanical center that is part of the Parks Department and the City of Providence implies the responsibility of the government for every action I make. There is a boundary in how much government can offer in order to sustain a larger network of relationships and support community gardens on a city scale.
As I was talking to Laura, a professor of RISD Architecture and who is a great mentor to me, she encouraged me to reach out to DownCity Design. Every year, the organization provides a grant to one RISD student to lead a workshop that provides a build-up structure for the community. Although I was very frustrated to face restrictions, this situation encouraged me to reach out to other organizations that can work with the government and the community to serve creative visions of the individuals. Once I got the idea of working with DownCity Design, I suddenly imagined how the project can grow to become more equitable and comprehensive for other community gardens that can benefit from this design. The challenge will reoccur in terms of time and budget but the limit is what motivates me to find another resource that helps me grow the project and make a larger impact on the community.
This was a great learning for me to understand how collaborative work with a non-profit is another route for making things happen and have an influence on the work system. So again, what is my core mission? It is to research, observe, and understand the complexity of relationships among government, organizations, and the community and how my intervention can open up new methods of working collaboratively and actualize innovative ideas into real projects.
My first garden workshop at Summit Community Garden lead by Michael who strives for the growth of community gardens and a larger network of a compost system. His website on Earth Appliance Organics has more information on what they do!
It is so exciting to see my garden table being filled up! I am still trying really hard to visit all of them before the fellowship ends. It is a huge delight to see how each garden has individuality and uniqueness in how they operate.