Collaborative Design for Neighborhood Partnership
The University of Minnesota is developing a partnership with community groups in North Minneapolis - the University Northside Partnership (UNP). One of the leaders of that effort is Scott McConnell, a Professor in Educational Psychology and Director of the U's Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) which will work on the Northside.
Scott recently sent me a very nice example of how faculty and students from different parts of the university can work together in a spontaneous, informal fashion to serve the purposes of public engagement. He wrote to Tom Fisher, Dean of the College of Design, with the following problem:
"...we've received money to rent office space somewhere in North Minneapolis -- a place that we hope will be highly functional (for faculty, staff, students, community meetings), flexible (we're hoping to use it to recruit more work from U folks in the neighborhood), visible, and inviting (both for U folks and community members). We've looked at a number of potential sites; most recently, we've seen two rather large and open buildings (one former grocery store, another a former automobile garage) that are on West Broadway and seem to have some interesting possibilities. ... This is, it seems, an advantage: We may be able to keep build-out costs down, and create a workspace that is maximally flexible.
On this last point -- flexibility -- I am envisioning this space as an attractor for faculty, students, and programs; by providing occasional or part-time space in the neighborhood, I'm hoping we can get more folks to commit to work as part of the partnership. As a result, being able to use one spot for many folks, and to create arrangements dynamically, seems important."
Scott noted that he, an educational psychologist, has little capacity to think through the design issues involved in configuring such space, and asked Dean Fisher whether the College of Design has someone who might be able and willing to provide some expert advice. The upshot:
"With assistance from Dean Tom Fisher of the College of Design, Caren Martin offered to provide assistance in design of this office earlier this summer. Dr. Martin is a professor in Design, Housing, and Apparel and (with Mike English, an adjunct member of DHA) instructor for DHA 4607, a senior interior design class. Caren was kind enough to 'jump' at my broad and vague bid to get students in the design of these offices, and the two sections of DHA 4607 are working this month (starting 9/5 and with a presentation of design plans on 9/28) to prepare up to 12 recommended interior design solutions for the two prospective sites we've identified on West Broadway....As I understand, work will be presented as a 'fair,' with individual design solutions presented as free-standing posters."
Rapid and enthusiastic response, interdisciplinary connections, student involvement, a significant public engagement enterprise ... This is the way it ought to work.