De­sign­ing for So­cial Jus­tice

Equity-cen­tered Com­mu­nity De­sign Cre­ative Re­ac­tion Lab

Fast Company - - World-Changing Ideas - —EA

Not long ago, An­tionette Car­roll, founder of the so­cial jus­tice non­profit Cre­ative Re­ac­tion Lab (CRXLAB), con­ducted an ex­per­i­ment in her home­town of St. Louis. She went into three Aldi su­per­mar­kets—one in a pre­dom­i­nantly Africanamer­i­can, low-in­come com­mu­nity, an­other in a mid­dle-class neigh­bor­hood, and a third in a wealthy, pre­dom­i­nantly white en­clave. “It’s the same store, but the lay­out was com­pletely dif­fer­ent,” Car­roll says. In the lat­ter two, pro­duce and healthy snacks greeted cus­tomers walk­ing through the doors, but in the lower-in­come neigh­bor­hood su­per­mar­ket, cus­tomers im­me­di­ately en­coun­tered chips and cook­ies. Even gro­cery store food aisles, Car­roll says, can per­pet­u­ate inequal­ity. “That’s a de­sign de­ci­sion,” she says. A graphic de­signer, Car­roll has long been in­ter­ested in both de­sign and so­cial jus­tice, but her think­ing about the two co­a­lesced in new ways fol­low­ing the shoot­ing of Michael Brown, in Fer­gu­son, in 2014. In the up­roar and un­rest that fol­lowed, she saw prob­lems she be­lieved could be ad­dressed through de­sign. She con­vened a 24-hour chal­lenge that brought lo­cal de­sign­ers to­gether with com­mu­nity mem­bers to cre­ate projects that could fos­ter con­ver­sa­tion across racial and so­cioe­co­nomic di­vides. The first ses­sion spawned sev­eral ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing the Red Ta­ble Project (an on­go­ing se­ries of meals that brings to­gether com­mu­nity mem­bers who oth­er­wise would not meet), Guerilla Art War­fare (stick­ers and sten­ciled im­agery, such as an African-amer­i­can silhouette with hands up, that could be placed in neigh­bor­hoods to chal­lenge bi­ases), and Cards Against Bru­tal­ity (an ed­u­ca­tional game de­signed for po­lice of­fi­cers). As her work pro­gressed, Car­roll re­al­ized CRXLAB was cre­at­ing a new kind of method­ol­ogy, some­thing she dubbed Equity-cen­tered Com­mu­nity De­sign, com­bin­ing the rig­ors of de­sign prob­lem solv­ing with com­mu­nity outreach and open con­ver­sa­tion be­tween groups that might not typ­i­cally com­mu­ni­cate. The or­ga­ni­za­tion is pro­vid­ing mem­bers of his­tor­i­cally un­der­served and ne­glected com­mu­ni­ties—par­tic­u­larly young peo­ple—a frame­work and lan­guage to cre­ate spe­cific civic pro­pos­als to im­prove life in those neigh­bor­hoods. Car­roll has been trav­el­ing the coun­try to con­duct work­shops. “Every city has its own chal­lenges when it comes to racial equity,” she says. “You look at Flint, and there’s an en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice pipe­line. Here, in St. Louis, we’re fo­cused on po­lice and com­mu­nity re­la­tions. We built our model so that oth­ers can use it.”

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