The Assembly Project Orientation lays the groundwork for investigating the intersection of place-based design and civic engagement. While certain evidence can be gleaned from academic research across a range of disciplines, there are a variety of knowledge gaps yet to be explored. In order to address these gaps, the upcoming Assembly publication will draw upon best practices and real-world project examples to offer design guidelines for practitioners and civic leaders. Detailed analyses and case studies of projects that have enhanced, or hindered, civic engagement will play an essential role in shaping this pioneering field of thought.
For example, libraries are no longer viewed simply as a collection of books, but as platforms for community building, knowledge creation, and resource sharing. Many libraries offer spaces for a wide range of community resources, connecting patrons to computer access, social services, and literacy and employment support. We will investigate the role of design in creating successful libraries to better understand their potential to foster civic life.
Youth engagement in Harlem
In West Harlem, the New York Public Library’s Hamilton Grange branch was renovated in 2012 to include the city’s first full-floor space dedicated to teen resources and activities. In a community where crime rates are high and graduation rates remain low, the library provides a safe refuge from the streets and opportunities for teens to participate in public life by engaging in valuable after-school programs.
The teen center is spatially divided into zones that foster large- and small-group interaction and individual activities. The zones provide access to children’s literature, exam preparatory materials, publicly-accessible computers, and a designated corner for study breaks and snacks—a rare opportunity given the ‘No Eating and Drinking’ rule typically enforced in libraries. The focal point of the teen center is a large bleacher that serves as a hang out space and a venue for performances, from poetry readings to Guitar Hero competitions.
Little Free Libraries
The Little Free Library phenomenon has been flourishing in cities and suburbs across the globe. These small structures, often made from recycled materials and designed by community organizations and individuals, are emblematic of local stewardship. They offer secondhand books that are available for borrowing, and are stocked and maintained by community volunteers.
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation in Charlotte, NC has been helping to make Little Free Libraries accessible to the city's most impoverished neighborhoods. With a recent grant from the Knight Foundation, and in partnership with Habitat Charlotte, 25 new libraries will be built and stocked to serve local "book deserts." Across the city, Little Free Libraries will support new interactions among neighbors and strangers, and help support a sense of civic trust.
No matter what the scale, design is an essential tool for responding to the unique needs and priorities of local communities—from supporting interaction, to facilitating acts of stewardship, to deterring crime. Assembly will illuminate case studies and project examples that elevate civic life in a range of cities across the U.S., in hopes of inspiring the civic leaders, design practitioners, and community advocates who are shaping their neighborhoods every day.
To download the Assembly Project Orientation, click here.
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