on the photo: The Englewood Jazz Festival at Hamilton Park Cultural Center in Chicago, IL in September 2015.
Questions to Daniell Littman, content editor of PUBLIC Journal
WHO IS YOUR PUBLIC?
I work for the Chicago Park District, so my PUBLIC is Chicago. Chicago has over 500 parks, so every resident has nearby access to a park in their neighborhood. Over 200 of these parks have field houses, where recreational and cultural programming is held for all ages. My work centers around engaging neighbors and stakeholders in conversations about what they envision for their local parks, and how the cultural programming and visual elements of these spaces influence the ways that parks are seen and used by neighbors. We also hold over 1,200 free events each summer in parks in nearly every neighborhood in Chicago. Parks in Chicago have a reputation for being places where violence occurs, so we’re working to turn that idea on its head -- to make parks spaces where art happens, peace happens, and neighborhoods flourish.
WHY ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT PUBLIC INTEREST DESIGN?
I am passionate about the ways that Public Interest Design can be a practice towards sustainable community change. My background is not in design - it is in the arts (performance), and community development. I am inspired by Asset Based Community Development and the ways it can be used in design and sustainable change processes: I believe in recognizing the assets, stories, and history of individuals, groups, and spaces before making decisions about what should happen or when. I believe in beginning a process with questions, and allowing those questions to guide said process. Who is in the room, and how does that influence the conversation? Who should be in the room that is not here? How can we engage voices that aren’t currently represented? I am particularly interested in the use of public space as a forum for expressing community identity, and facilitating the process of space becoming place (for space plus value equals place).
HOW DO YOU THINK DESIGN CAN CHANGE THE WORLD?
For me, this is a question of ownership. If people have ownership over the way they interact with and use spaces, they will be more willing to sustain those spaces long into the future. I think about the students I worked with in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago to turn an available (abandoned,city-owned) lot across the street from their school into a vegetable garden. They went through the entire design process from imagination to reality. Two years later, they are calling me to tell me about the progress on the lot, and sending pictures of themselves in front of the vegetables they’ve planted.If these students are invested in making a public space into a vegetable garden for the school and neighborhood, they will be more invested in their neighborhood as a whole. They are learning that their mindful actions can have tangible, positive impact on their community. That, to me, is the world.