An inclusive design is the best design

St. John's Green

It’s Sunday afternoon, and the sun is pleasantly streaming through the autumn leaves on a vacant lot in Brighton Heights. Kids amble around the lot, playing with sticks and pine cones. Neighbors are chatting over cups of hot cider, looking on towards the woods around them. They talk about what this place was, and what it could be. The lot they stand on was once home to the St. John’s Hospital, but the hospital was abandoned and demolished two decades ago. Now it’s time for something new. The St. John’s Green will be an improved outdoor space of some sort, but it’s up to the neighbors to decide exactly what that means.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority, which owns the St. John’s Green, requested that GTECH St. John's Greenhelp gather input from Brighton Heights residents on the redesign of the site. At GTECH, we love this part of the process. The starting point for reclaiming a vacant lot is where creativity blooms. You can see it in conversations between neighbors, sharing and debating, in kids exploring with their new friends from down the block, and in residents realizing that the vacant lot they’ve stared at for years could be something better.

It begins with an invitation — in this case, an invitation for neighbors to join GTECH at the St. John’s Green on a Sunday afternoon.  The event was simple – we wanted residents to have a chance to give their preliminary input for the lot. We had several ways to gather this feedback. Chalkboards set up on the lot prompted residents to fill-in-the-blank to questions like “This lot needs…” and “This lot could be…”. We also had a peg board for sharing more open-ended ideas and concerns. Most importantly, we created an atmosphere that fostered conversation. We did that by providing food and games, easing the tension that can form around community decision-making. Input from this event was put together as a starting point for community meetings that will take place throughout the winter and spring where neighbors will collaborate with Origin4Design to create a plan for the site.

At GTECH, we believe that community engagement is a critical part of inclusive design. If a community project is not created with the people it’s for, then it’s not really for them. So we go to the people who live near the vacant lot of focus, rather than expecting them to come to us. We don’t just send invitations by email — we knock on doors, we pick up the phone, we do what we can to include the voice of everyone, whether black, white, young, or old. We provide several ways of giving input because not everyone will feel comfortable or interested in sharing their ideas in the same ways.  Centering vacant lot transformation on community engagement is so important, and we are constantly revising our methods so that we can dig deeper into the hopes and needs of a neighborhood. What’s your favorite way of sharing ideas for your community?

St. John's Green


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