By Shani Rodan
Kris Goddard has been the Assistant Commissioner for Neighborhood Development at the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) for the last 6 years. At the city, he has been responsible for overseeing economic development and commercial revitalization efforts designed to strengthen and preserve commercial districts across all five boroughs.
We spoke with Goddard about The Neighborhood Design Lab and how this project can help local communities in New York City, as he is about to embark on a new chapter taking him to the west coast.
Project title and dates:
The Neighborhood Design Lab is a program that is a partnership between SBS and Worldstudio Foundation, headed by Mark Randall. This is the first year that we’ve done the fully funded, full-time, year-long investment program in four organizations, such as Business Improvement Districts and Local Development Corporations.
The project purpose:
The purpose of the program is to provide visual design assistance to neighborhoods and the organizations that serve them, so that they can better inform the programming that they are putting on in their neighborhoods using professional design assistance as a way to create better community-based outcomes.
When did this project started?
A few years ago, we partnered with the program of Impact! Design for Social Change at the School of Visual Arts. For 6 years in a row the organizations selected worked with design students over a six-week long intense program, and often came up with brilliantly innovative solutions to challenges that were happening in their districts. What was really interesting to us was hearing the designers say, “Don’t tell us what you want from us, tell us what your problems and challenges are.” And then using design and strategy through that process they came up with innovative solutions. That was so impactful that we decided to craft a brand new program.
At the very beginning of this program, we organized a big workshop in which we invited community-based organizations to learn about how to engage with design and how to think through the design process. That event was impactful because over 50 people representing 30 organizations showed up at this workshop, and worked with Worldstudio Foundation to hear how other organizations had implemented design thinking and design processes.
We selected four organizations to receive one year worth of professional design assistance. Here are the steps: match an organization with a professional designer, identify challenges, then do community engagement to build creative solutions that may help address those challenges.
The key audience for the project:
The audience for us is our community-based organizations, that work in moderate income neighborhoods. This year we selected four organizations which will receive one year worth of professional design assistance. It’s The Alliance for Coney Island, working in Brooklyn. The Kingsbridge Riverdale Van Cortlandt Development Corporation working in the Bronx and in Marble Hill in upper Manhattan. The Northfield Community Local Development Corporation which is in Staten Island, and, Union Settlement Association which is in Manhattan, working primarily in east Harlem.
Surprising facts about the project:
The partners that we have paired with the designers are often small nonprofits. The designers are coming up with solutions that the organizations never thought they would get. There’s a level of detail to the final product, that those nonprofits would have never received otherwise if they had just hired a designer to create a logo, a website, or a branding campaign for the neighborhood. What they are getting is so much deeper and richer because design thinking and the creativity that design brings is included at the very beginning of that process. They are completely blown away by the quality and the depth that they receive from designers.
One challenge overcome in bringing this project to life:
We are only able to work in these four neighborhoods this year. We have a lot of neighborhoods that I think would really benefit from this kind of design assistance. One of the challenges for us is how can we continue to think through ways to scale this program which we’re trying to spread across these organizations. The workshop that I mentioned is one way for us to do that, i.e. to get the organizations interested in building design thinking into their work earlier on. We’re hopeful that we can do it again in the next year.