Site Visit + Initial Research Synthesis
We met Tim Smith, our main community contact for the project, at Center of Life in Hazelwood. He walked us through a large chunk of the main street, pointing out the Almano site, 2nd avenue, and various churches as some of the more important landmarks in the area. Tim spoke at length about the economic changes in the Hazelwood as we walked along 2nd ave, pointing out empty storefront and lamenting the lack of any proper grocery store within the community. He described the sense that Hazelwood has been forgotten by the Pittsburgh government, except for demonstrations of charity towards “underserved” communities. We left Hazelwood that evening with a new appreciation for the issues weighing the entire community down.
Through a trip synthesis from the tour we took as a group of Hazelwood, we were able to uncover the important topics of workforce development, infrastructure, politics, community collaboration, city planning and bureaucracy. From our preliminary research, four primary themes emerged: 1) bureaucracy & politics, 2) generational gap, 3) community planning and engagement, 4) resiliency of a community.
Bureaucracy & politics
- Conscious decision by city gov’t to divert attention to the Hazelwood community
- There are government dollars that never get to Hazelwood; community development block grants are supposed to come to community like this, and politicians got walkaround money that’s supposed to come in large numbers but only comes in small numbers.
- Not enough business or jobs- there are efforts to increase ability and access to get to jobs for Hazelwood residents.
- Hazelwood has been treated as a data point, a test bed for impoverished communities.
- What do you miss vs. what do you want?
- Older generations, what they remember and loved about their community, as they want to build a foundation for the younger generation – what do you miss
- For the younger generation, it’s more about what they would like to experience as they are growing up in Hazelwood – what do you want?
Community planning and engagement
- Hazelwood leaders have the best idea of what should be in their community and what their community wants. They would like to build greater relationships with other organizations so it’s more of a collaborative effort. They want other orgs to work with them to address real felt issues in community – set their own terms, get corporations to give back to their communities.
- What are the current methods of city planning and engagement?
- Understanding what community leaders are doing now to address community concerns and planning, juxtaposed with what the community actually wants.
Transparency and resiliency of community
- Hazelwood used to be a very thriving and affluent community with many activities up and down the avenue. The steel mill employed most of people that live in Hazelwood.
- How might we facilitate an open door culture throughout the Hazelwood community?
- When things are taken away from a community, what happens?
- What do people in the community miss?
- Where do children in this community play?
Moving forward, there are systems questions that we’d like to address:
- What does it take to get to an entity like Uber (and other similar organizations, companies, and establishments) to invest in a community like Hazelwood?
- In a community that’s been broken, what does it mean to rebuild connections in a meaningful way?
- How might we build a system that is relevant to its people? (starts from people and goes out into the community)
- How can we increase the visibility of a community like this, that is feeling forgotten even if they’re interacted with?
We also thought about all of the facets of “Hidden in Plan Sight”— specifically, what was hidden and what the “plan” referred to. We thought a lot about the way businesses developed, how education changes, and the issues Hazelwood has had with the greater Pittsburgh area. Eventually, we landed on the idea of “ ‘remembered’ vs. forgotten”, which contrasted the way that the city was using Hazelwood for publicity projects vs. what Hazelwood actually needed from the city (money). This systemic divestment lead to Hazelwood’s transformation from a thriving community into a neighborhood lacking the proper infrastructure for self-sustainment.
Design Probes: Drawing Exercise
For our first research activity, we wanted to discuss with the Hazelwood residents how they felt about the topics work, play, education, community, and family. We created a set of activity cards that framed our questions in the context of past, present, and future (i.e. WORK in that PAST, FAMILY in the FUTURE), and asked the residents to draw something on the card that related to the topic. Though some participants needed a little reassurance that we didn’t care how good the drawings were, we were able to use their drawings as a reference point to talk about their lives and the state of Hazelwood.
Saudra talked to us about the future of work, where she images people running their own businesses, creating a self-sustaining community.
Hope told us she wanted to be a homicide detective to help her community. She also talked about how she was glad to be able to spend time with her family over the holidays, as some of her friends didn’t have that opportunity.
Pamela selected the prompt work/present, but instead of talking about her job, she told about how she maintains her garden, which is her preferred work. She said she liked having people over at her garden, and told us a story about an old rusted chair she owns. It was left over from the previous owner, but she never wanted to get rid of it. She says she wants to repair it eventually.
Carol talked a lot about her childhood. She said that even though she grew up poor, she never felt poor, and credited this to growing up in a good home and always having friends around. We discussed with her the difference between “neighborhood” and “community” and talked about the lack of a central play space for kids, such as the old rec center or YMCA.
Three out of four of the people we talked to were older residents, and the main theme that kept popping up was that Hazelwood used to be a safe , welcoming community in the past, and now that the children don’t have a place to play, and the rec center, and grocery store are gone, Hazelwood has become a disconnected and forgotten neighborhood. The most important ideas that we gained from our research discussions were the vision of this special past Hazelwood and the loss of the sense of community that the town has experience in the past years.
We broke down this information by branching out the main themes from what each person had told us during the activity. The common threads that emerged were a need to bring the community together, a need for kids to have a central meeting place, and the idea of a larger goal for the residents of Hazelwood to strive for. We came up with these three ideas to present:
Turning the current area of the Hazelwood outdoor market into an adaptable space for different types of community activities: Adapting the market space to hold more events would bring the community together and help them bond over business, cooking, crafting, or many other activities. The space would have pop-up shops, a stage, and areas designed to be customizable
Revamping the idea of the rec center, and creating a Hazelwood youth sports league: Hazelwood has been without a “center” for kids to gather and play for a while, and we would bring it back, but incorporate it into a community-focused youth sports league that would bring parents and kids closer together and keep kids occupied and engaged.
Creating a common workshop space for Hazelwood residents to collaborate on making: This idea sprung from the idea of porch culture. People in Hazelwood don’t sit on their porches as much as they used to, and making deck furniture together would be a good way to bring this community-building activity back. After the presentations, we realized that we had focused on the community-building aspect of the project, but not the fact that our design had to be in an exhibit setting. We quickly retooled our ideas and came up with new concepts and ideas to develop in the future:
During our first major group crit, we learned that our ideas were more large-scale systemic solutions, rather than museum-exhibit style contained experiences. With this new outlook on our ideation, we moved forwards with the idea that had the most potential as a stand-alone exhibit: a representation of porch culture. We also explored several alternative ideas so we did not focus too heavily on one idea.
Porch culture experience: The idea is to create a porch or porch-like setting in Center of Life during the show and have people watch the show or the outdoors. They would be listening to a recording of Hazelwood residents telling their stories overlaid with ambient street noise, creating an immersive experience of sitting on a porch talking to friends and neighbors.
Focusing on the greater Hazelwood community: We wanted to break down the mental barriers that separate Hazelwood, Glen Hazel, and Glenwood in residents’ minds. The theme here is “piecing together,” but the concept is up in the air at this point.
Parents and kids bonding over an activity/shadowbox: We brought forward the idea of connecting parents and children through some kind of building activity where the parents see one view and the children see another. This lead into another idea:
Cooperative game: Some sort of game or activity that two people play and which requires communication and cooperation to complete. This and the previous idea currently lack a guiding theme, but we find the concepts to be interesting in the early stages.
Splitting up into second teams
Following our small group ideation, the project was split into more cohesive themes that would come together to encompass the greater theme and objective of this designed exhibit. Our new group (Zai, Daniel, Jon, Jillian, and Brandon) focused on using the theme “voice” as a lens to further explore old and new ideas and research that can better cater to the desired experience of this exhibit.
Porches are a common characteristic of residential architecture within Hazelwood’s community and the greater Pittsburgh area. Using this familiar activity and form of engagement, our team explored how we could use porch culture as a platform for storytelling and understanding through interaction. This concept is heavily rooted in the idea that a given space can be adaptive and accessible within various levels of scale and participation. We also continued to explore how porch culture can be personable and approachable within an exhibit space and engage people through audio, tactile, and visual experiences.
Crowd Sourced Images:
While our team explored how we could engage the people of Hazelwood to participate within exhibit content, we conceptualized methods of using images that are personally taken by Hazelwood community members. The goal of this experience is to take first-hand look through the eyes of the community members. The collection of images that would be gathered prior to the exhibit would then be curated and displayed for people to see to understand what it means to be a member of Hazelwood.